It doesn’t have to hurt: How to use soft rollers and balls to gently melt away aches and pains

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All sorts of fitness buffs have taken to using foam rollers on backs and arms and legs, but it’s often a no-pain, no-gain venture. That made no sense to the developer of a gentler way to self-massage muscles and other troublesome areas of the body.

“If you are in pain, why would you cause pain to reduce it?” asks Sue Hitzmann, the New York City connective tissue specialist who developed the MELT Method, which uses balls and soft rollers to treat connective tissue and the nervous system.

The idea behind using rollers — hard or soft — is that by running body parts over a cylinder you provide self-massage and stretching, says orthopedic surgeon Sabrina Strickland, a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. But using a hard roller, or a lacrosse ball, which also is common, means “you’re starting at 10. You’re not easing into it at all,” she says. So the idea of MELT’s softer equipment makes sense.


Hitzmann says the forceful work of hard rollers is not necessary to do what she calls “rehydrating” connective tissue. Think of that tissue like a sponge, she says. When it’s dry, it’s stiff and inflexible; wet, it’s soft, more elastic and easily manipulated.

Strickland says she knows of nothing to support that theory. But she says that rolling does massage and can increase circulation to the spot on the body where the roller is applied, which can provide relief and, done regularly, keep problems at bay.

Hitzmann, a well-known fitness instructor, created her Myofascial Energetic Length Technique in response to clients with chronic pain and to deal with her own injuries. What Hitzmann calls “stuck stress” can result from running marathons or sitting at a desk and can slow the body’s healing process. Left alone, that can lead eventually to back pain, headaches and injury. Her technique, she says, directly treats that stuck stress.

Kris Haley, who teaches the MELT Method in Los Angeles, says she spent 18 years in pain and just accepted it as a part of the aging process. More than two years ago, she made a “non-negotiable decision” to get out of pain. MELT worked for her. She recommends using the method at least three times a week, at least 10 minutes at a time.

At an introductory workshop, Haley demonstrated how to move the hands, feet, neck and other body parts in precise ways over small balls and soft foam rollers. It’s a relaxing exercise and felt great while I did it, but I didn’t go to the workshop with any specific problems.

Hitzmann is an exercise physiologist and has written a bestselling book about MELT; the program is also on CD and taught by more than 1,200 instructors across the country.


Twitter: @mmacvean


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