I am a very vocal advocate of “prehab” over “rehab”. Basically I think us triathlon and multisport athletes spend way too much focus on rehab when we are injured rather than taking the necessary steps to “prehab” your body so it’s less likely to get injured in the first place.
However, this hasn’t stopped the market from getting flooded with prevention tools such as rollers, sticks, balls and more. We triathletes love to buy up whatever equipment the pros are using and all pros place a focus on injury prevention so the market is responding.
If you are one of those athletes that takes their injury prevention seriously then I applaud you. Even if you aren’t it is never too late to start!
So which tool is the best at injury prevention? The $300 one that looks like it belongs on a space ship? The spiked roller? The smooth one?
Nope. In my opinion the best tool for injury prevention only costs $3 and you can find them at any sporting goods store. It’s a lacrosse ball.
The lacrosse ball (for those who don’t know) is a smooth round ball that is bouncy but very dense. Unlike a hollow tennis ball, a lacrosse ball is solid all the way through and doesn’t offer very much give.
Best of the Lacrosse Ball
The lacrosse ball is the best injury prevention tool for a number of reasons but here are just a few:
- Small enough to get to those target areas unlike sticks or foam rollers
- Dense enough to dig deep into problem areas
- Doesn’t soften under pressure
- Easy to travel with thanks to it’s small size
- Perfect for upper body as well
- Costs less than $5
How does the lacrosse ball prevent injuries?
Like most sticks, rollers and balls the lacrosse ball engages in what’s known as self-myofascial release. Let me explain what that is.
In our bodies our muscles are covered with fascia. Fascia is the thin covering of connective tissue that encompasses all of our muscles. When this covering gets put through stress or changes then it can lead to injuries and pain.
Think of it as a balloon filled with sand. The sand is our muscles and the balloon is the fascia. The balloon in its normal state can move and bend and adapt perfectly. But then it gets thrown around a lot and small holes form. Now when you move it and stretch it sand falls out. Or maybe you put the balloon in the freezer and then try and move it. It won’t move very well.
You get the point. You can take care of your muscles relentlessly but if you aren’t taking care of the fascia then it can be pointless. Unfortunately the fascia aren’t as easy to take care of as muscles.
Fascia require more pressure to keep loose than your muscles do which is why most sticks, rollers and balls are very hard and dense.
I’m sure some of you are saying that I am just making stuff up, but I promise this is actual science. A study published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy found that self-myofascial release can:
- increase joint range of motion
- increase muscle performance
- decrease muscle fatigue after exercise
- decrease muscle soreness after exercise
How do I use the lacrosse ball?
Once you have a lacrosse ball there are endless ways to utilize it for injury prevention. Basically place it between a trouble area and a hard surface and apply pressure. Roll it around that area to loosen it up.
If you want more specific moves, Health.com has a great article on it here.
Personally the lacrosse ball is my most used triathlon tool. I’m not just talking about injury prevention here either. I use it more than my gps watch, my goggles, my bike and my running shoes…probably combined.
I have them all over my house. I keep one under my desk for using on my feet throughout the day. I have one in my bathroom so I can use it on my upper body while I brush my teeth.
Get one. Or many. You won’t regret it.