Renew You Challenge: Give yourself a massage

These three self-massage techniques don’t just feel good — they may help improve your joint mobility, balance and everyday function.

K. Aleisha Fetters
Mature woman sitting on bed rubbing her neck and back.

The Renew You Challenge is the newest health and wellness experience from Renew by UnitedHealthcare® to help inspire you to take charge of your well-being every day. Every weekday in October, we’re sharing new ideas to help build up your body, mind and spirit.


Want to do something for yourself today? Enjoy a massage — without leaving home.

Massage therapy is great for helping to relieve aches and pains, reducing muscle tension and stiffness and even improving mood, a Harvard Medical School report suggests. Fortunately, you don’t have to schedule an appointment to reap the benefits of massage.

“Self-massage strategies are effective and allow you to take control over your own body,” says massage therapist Aaron Witz. And unlike professional massages, these self-massage methods can be done often, which means you can get relief when you need it most, notes Eric Robertson, P.T., D.P.T., of the American Physical Therapy Association.

When performing massage therapy at home, it’s wise to employ tools, such as tennis balls and foam rollers, instead of using your hands to directly massage your sore spots, says Witz. 

“Tools allow you to target the area you’re trying to address and also save the joints in your hands from uncomfortable pressure and stress,” says Witz. Using your hands, he says, can bring on a lot of muscle fatigue and potentially aggravate any arthritis pain you may have in your hands and fingers.

To get started, try these three simple self-massage techniques using a tennis ball. Each one may help relieve tension and improve mobility in some of your body’s most common trouble spots. Do them whenever you’re feeling tight or just need a break. For best results, commit at least 30 seconds to each one.

Relief for Your Neck, Shoulders and Back

These areas are prime candidates for becoming tight and achy. If you have a habit of hunching forward, you’re stressing the muscles that run from the base of your skull to your shoulders. The result can be tightness — even pain — that you feel in your neck and across your shoulders, says Robertson.

What’s more, wear and tear over the years can shrink the gaps between your vertebrae. As a result, your body’s natural shock absorbers in your neck and spine become less effective. 

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“Mid-back mobility is a vastly underrated and ignored aspect of daily living,” Witz says. “If the joints of your middle back are not moving the way they should, then the regions of your body both above and below it will need to move more to make up for it. Sometimes, this excessive movement in the lower back and neck can lead to chronic pain and tightness.”

Try This! Tennis Ball Massage Against a Wall 
There’s so much you can do with this little yellow ball. All the movements below begin the same way: Stand with your back against a wall and place a tennis ball at your sore spot — neck, shoulder or mid-back.

Hold the ball in place while you get your footing. It helps to bend your knees for better stability. If you’re worried about the ball slipping, stuff it into a long sock. Then hold the end of the sock with one hand to keep the ball right where you want it.

For a sore neck or shoulder

  • Press the sore spot against the ball to hold it in place for at least 5 to 10 seconds and up to 30 seconds. The direct pressure acts as a trigger-point massage. 

For neck tension

  • Lightly press your neck against the ball, and slightly bend and straighten your knees so the ball rolls up and down your neck. Do this for 30 seconds. You can position the ball so it’s centered along the back of your neck, or off to one side.
  • Alternatively, lightly press your neck against the ball and slowly turn your head from side to side for 30 seconds.

For upper- and middle-back tension

  • Position the ball at your sore spot. Use one hand to hold the ball in place while you alternate tilting your ears to your shoulders. This movement stretches the muscle tissue. Do this for 30 seconds.

For shoulder tension

  • Place the ball at the back of one shoulder and press into the ball to hold it in place.
  • Next, make small circles with that arm, going in both directions, to tease out the tension in that area. Do this for 30 seconds, then switch to the other shoulder and repeat.
  • Alternatively, place the ball at the back of your shoulder and press your weight into the ball to hold it in place while you alternate tilting your chin down and up and your ears shoulder to shoulder. Do each side for 30 seconds. 

Relief for Your Forearms and Hands 

Arthritis symptoms commonly show up in the hands, the Arthritis Foundation points out, and massage can help. Plus, if you’re often at the computer, in the garden, doing carpentry or similar repetitive work, you might have some tension and soreness in your hands and forearms.

Here again, a tennis ball can become your new best friend. “The pressure of the ball will assist in mobilizing the bones of the hand,” says Witz. 

In turn, the muscles and connective tissue that control your hands and fingers may start to relax. And your joints may get the movement that they need to help them stay loose and flexible, he says.

Try This! Tabletop Roll with Tennis Ball

  • Place a tennis ball on a table and put your palm on top of the ball. 
  • Press your hand into the ball and roll your hand in circles. 
  • Next, roll the ball back and forth from finger to finger.
  • Move your forearm onto the ball; move your forearm back and forth over the ball, and then in small circles over the ball. To increase the intensity of the massage, lean over the ball.
  • Finally, flip your forearm over and roll the back of your forearm in the same fashion. 
  • Spend at least 5 to 10 seconds with each movement. Switch hands and repeat.

Relief for Your Feet

Treating your feet to a daily massage may help improve blood flow and relieve stiffness and pain in your arches, says Witz.

What’s more, this little bit of TLC can help you stay steady on your feet. “The sensory stimulation you get from the rolling can also stimulate an increased level of awareness of where your body is positioned,” Witz explains. “This allows your brain to better process where your feet are, improving your balance and hopefully decreasing your fall risk.”

In fact, foot massage has been shown to significantly improve balance in people with diabetic neuropathy, reports a 2015 study in Medical Science Monitor

Try This! Foot Massage with Tennis Ball

  • Sit in a chair with a tennis ball on the floor in front of you.
  • Place one foot on top of the ball. 
  • Roll the ball back and forth from your heels to your toes, pressing into the ball as you go along.
  • Do this for at least 30 seconds. Switch feet and repeat.
  • To increase the intensity, do this massage from a standing position. Hold onto a counter or sturdy chair for balance.

Do Your Health a Favor

Discover more great ways to help yourself age well with Renew’s health and wellness resources. Learn more by signing in to your plan website and going to Health & Wellness. Not a member? Learn more here.


Catch up with the Renew You Challenge:

Download your Renew You Calendar

Day 1: Strengthen Your Core

Day 2: Eat More Real Food Today

Day 3: Do These 6 Important Health Checks

Day 4: Help Your Hips

Day 5: Reframe a Negative Thought

Day 6: Help Improve Your Posture

Day 7: Create a Wish List

Day 8: Check Your Heart Health in 60 Seconds

Day 9: Help Prevent Falls

Day 10: Give Your Brain a Workout

Day 11: Tone Your Upper Body

Day 12: Have a 10% Less Day