Self-Care Tools

Here are some products I frequently recommend to those who come to me for massage and bodywork. I have used every one of these items myself. There are solutions here for the following issues:

  • stress relief
  • general and specific muscle pain
  • relaxation
  • sleep
  • posture and alignment
  • foot pain and plantar fasciitis
  • diagnosing and treating your own injuries
  • locating and treating trigger points
  • overall well-being

I get a small commission from Amazon sales if you choose to buy through these links, and some items are available in local stores.

I also want to recommend going for floatation tank sessions. Ask me about this if you’re curious. I can share what it’s like and why it helps you relax, as well as refer you to a center near you.

Screen Shot 2017-08-30 at 8.01.33 PMNew item! Spire. $130. This is a biofeedback device that you clip to your clothing. It monitors your breathing and uses a smartphone app (available for iOS and Android) to notify you about your state (calm, tense, sedentary, etc.). Since the autonomic nervous system’s state (sympathetic/fight-or-flight or parasympathetic/rest-and-digest) is reflected in your breath, it’s a great indicator of when you are stressed. Many of us are not aware that we are stressed because our attention is not focused on our own breath or sensations — it’s directed toward that distressing person, situation, thought, or image. Stress is behind 60-90 percent of doctor visits, so if your health and quality of life are important to you, stress management is crucial. One friend doing two jobs, using a Spire, became aware which was the more stressful one and decided to let that one go.

Arnica. $6-12, depending on type and amount. Arnica montana is a European herb that relieves muscle pain, stiffness, and swelling and prevents bruiScreen Shot 2016-06-20 at 1.40.35 PMses. You can get it as a cream or gel to apply directly on sore muscles and bruises. It is unobtrusive, with very little smell, and it absorbs quickly. Arnica pellets come in a tube and are handy for when you’re sore all over. You can take it before you do strenuous work to prevent or lessen muscle pain.

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 9.39.45 AMArnica is sold in health-oriented grocery stores and in compounding pharmacies. I’ve never seen an ad for it, so I imagine most people learn about arnica via word of mouth from coaches, dance teachers, trainers, massage therapists, etc. Great for athletes, gardeners, movers, hikers — anyone who gets sore. I recommend keeping one or both kinds on hand for when you really need it.

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 1.51.39 PMEpsom salt. $30-60 for bulk purchase. Epsom salt is magnesium sulfate. I recommend soaking in it for muscle soreness and for stress. Put two cups into a tub of hot water and soak for 12-20 minutes. Add your favorite essential oils if you like. Or add 1 cup to a gallon of water to soak sore feet. Makes water feel silky and softens skin. Magnesium is a mineral that an estimated 80% of people are deficient in. It is easily absorbed through the skin without giving you diarrhea. It calms the nervous system and helps you sleep better. You can then water your plants with the bath water! They love it!

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 1.01.35 PMThe Gaiam Pressure Point Massager. $15. This tool does things that I simply cannot do with my hands. I don’t know how it works, but it seems to work as much on the nervous system as it does on muscles. The relief is literally sensational: People feel rushes all down their bodies just from someone rolling their shoulders with it. Every workplace could benefit from people using this tool on each other. Best used over clothing with the recipient seated; start light and add pressure, especially to the upper traps, and go easy over bone. Must be felt to be believed!

Screen Shot 2017-05-27 at 12.30.24 PMThe Five Minute Journal: A Happier You in 5 Minutes a Day. $23. Increase your well-being by cultivating gratitude, anticipation, affirmation, reflection, and improvement. A couple of minutes early in the day and before you go to bed increases happiness using the science of positive psychology. Consistent daily use retrains your emotions. Recommended by megapodcaster and best-selling author Tim Ferriss, I can attest to the positive change in mindset.

Screen Shot 2017-05-24 at 6.21.18 PMInner Balance Sensor. $129-$159. This sensor (using Bluetooth or plugging it into your phone) clips to your earlobe and to your smart phone (Android or iOS). The sensor measures your heart rate variability, an indicator of well-being, when connected to the free Inner Balance app on your smart phone. You can use the sensor and app to train yourself into a calmer nervous system, quieter mind, and more positive emotions, using visual feedback that you can compare over time. HeartMath recommends using it 3-5 minutes twice a day. It’s like meditation on steroids!

The Spine Aligner. $34. This wood tool does wonders for spines that feel twinge-y, stiff, or tender. Place it under your spine when lyiScreen Shot 2016-06-24 at 11.25.09 PMng on a bed so that the two inner knobs straddle the spaces between two vertebrae. Lying on it presses it into your back, putting space between your vertebrae and creating more space for your spinal nerves. When that first area feels relieved, roll it down between the next pair of vertebrae. You can release back stiffness from your upper back all the way down to your sacrum. Use the end knobs under your glutes and roll the serrated parts under your feet.

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 1.20.15 PMThe Stick. $35. Fantastic for rolling out your own tight calf muscles! Can also be used with your forearms on a flat solid surface and a partner doing the rolling. Be sure to turn your palms both down and up to get your flexors and extensors. Also: use it on your quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteals, upper traps, and more. Much easier than a foam roller because you don’t have to get down on the floor, more portable, and does a super job.

pillowTherapeutica Sleeping Pillow. $75 and up, depending on size (comes in 5 sizes based on shoulder width). For neck issues and sleep issues. Designed by a chiropractor and an ergonomic designer, this pillow will serve you well if you sleep on your left side, right side, and/or back. When side-sleeping, it keeps your neck vertebrae aligned with your thoracic vertebrae, relieving and preventing problems that can accrue over time. Also designed to relieve TMJ pain. When back-sleeping, it cradles your cervical curve. Since you spend one third of your life sleeping, this is an investment in your immediate and long-term well-being. Measure your shoulder width before ordering! I love my Therapeutica sleeping pillow, and it’s wonderful to wake up every day with a neck that feels great. I also relax more deeply, which brings better sleep quality. Takes a king-size pillow case. Comes with a 5-year warranty. A small version just for back sleeping is also available.

screen-shot-2016-10-08-at-12-07-02-pmStill Point Inducer. $18. Inducing a still point is a craniosacral therapy technique that is like pushing a reset button for your central nervous system. This device is intended to encourage still points by placing pressure on the back of your head, which can increase relaxation, release tension and anxiety, lower fevers, relieve headaches and neck/back pain, and reduce congestion, among other benefits. For best results, experiment with positioning a few times. This and other YouTube videos can assist you with placement.

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 12.49.31 PMCranioCradle. $35. Some prefer the CranioCradle over the Still Point Inducer. It’s more versatile. Place it under your head, neck, shoulders, back, or sacrum, or use two of them at once — position it to induce relaxation and provide profound renewal for body and spirit. Here’s a video of ways you can use it.

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 1.17.10 PMSacroWedgy. $40. For people with low back and/or hip pain, pelvic girdle tension, or pain or numbness radiating down the legs, try the SacroWedgy. You place it under your sacrum while lying on your back. Rest for up to 20 minutes. You’ll feel relief from tension you probably didn’t even know you had. Read the comments on Amazon because it doesn’t help with all low back/hip issues, but about 60% of those who tried it gave it 4 or 5 stars, so maybe it can help you. Smaller women and women with narrow hips may find the male version fits better. It’s the same as for females, only longer, narrower, and blue.

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 1.06.21 PMCaldera Back, Rib, and Abdomen Therapy Wrap. $32. Closes with velcro and can hold heat or ice packs (comes with 2 gel packs). I used something like this as a sacroilac belt. (If you find a better one, let me know, please!) Keeps the ligaments connecting the sacrum to the rest of the pelvis tight, stabilizing the pelvis. Provides short-term relief, and when worn consistently over time, can allow ligaments to shorten, thus restabilizing your pelvis, relieving low back pain, and strengthening your core.

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Listen to Your Pain: The Active Person’s Guide to Understanding, Identifying, and Treating Pain and Injury by Ben Benjamin, 2007. $5-16 (used or new). One of the best self-help books available when it comes to common musculo-skeletal injuries. Not sure if you have a rotator cuff injury or frozen shoulder? This book explains how to identify exactly which tissue is injured, with recommendations for self-treatment as well as advice on when to seek expert help. Good for tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, ankle strains, and many more conditions. Every home with active people could use this great reference book.

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 11.33.29 PMAdissage Athletic Sandal. $24. These sandals are the bomb for getting a foot massage with each step. Tiny nubs do the job, providing you with easy-on, easy-off treats for the feet. Whole sizes only, and sizing may run large (if you wear 7.5, order 7). These may take a little getting used to, so don’t expect to wear them all day at first. Wear them around the house, when running errands, after a workout, after being on your feet all day. Some reviewers say they relieved their foot pain and plantar fasciitis.

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 1.07.44 PMProKinetics Natural Body Balance Insoles. $60. Costs less than a one-hour massage in most places. For people with Morton’s foot, a common condition where the second metatarsal is longer than the first metatarsal, which can cause structural issues and pain over time. Keeps your feet from pronating with each step. When I first started wearing these in my shoes, right away I felt more stable, like the weight of my upper body on my hips was finally in just the right place. If you have this foot condition and you have sore joints or muscles, alignment problems, neck pain, back pain, jaw problems, head forward posture, and other musculoskeletal issues, it’s well worth your while to try these to see if they can provide relief. Google Morton’s foot to learn more about it.

Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 5.54.06 PMThe Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief, 3rd edition, by Clair Davies and Amber Davies, 2013. $18. Written for lay people to use when chronic pain that doesn’t respond to regular massage is caused by trigger points, which refer pain. (In other words, the source of pain is somewhere other than the place that hurts.) Many massage therapists use and value this book. It divides the body into sections, showing pain areas and listing (in order) which muscles are most likely to contain a trigger point referring to the painful area. For ease of use, you can take the book to a print shop and have it coil-bound for about $5 so it will lie open and flat while you’re using it. Be sure to get the 3rd edition as it’s significantly easier to use than previous versions. You may want to purchase a backnobber to work on your hard-to-reach trigger points.

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 12.47.26 PMBacknobber. $30. This S-shaped tool is recommended in The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook. Use it to find and release those painful, hard-to-reach trigger points, especially on the back of your body. The S shape lets you reach your back and leverage pressure just where you need it. You can really dig in with this tool!

Gravity Pal. $379 + shipping. I tried this low-angle inversion table and loved it. Just one minute lying on the table and another minute resting on my side afterwards were enough to relieve back and neck tension and induce relaxation. Great for pain due to compressed spinal nerves, spondylolisthesis, lumbar tightness. Angled at only 13 degrees, it’s way easier and safer to use than inversion tables or gravity boots.