Foam rollers, bands, mobility balls, cups—in our industry, the tool selection is vast and interesting.
Tools are available in so many different materials and vary in sizes, technique of application and temperature.
It can be difficult to sort out or understand how to try the different possibilities out there, so let’s break down what tools are and how they can work in your practice.
What Are Mobility Tools?
A mobility tool is a device or implement that aids us in our ability to move freely and easily. That ability is often hampered by sedentary lifestyles and the lack of movement incorporated into our lives. Mobility tools help us focus on our movement and aid us in thinking about our mobility.
When we have a tool and an understanding of how to use it, we can take time out of our day to use it and focus on our bodies. Implementing tools into our practice for our clients can help them focus on their health and wellness outside of just your time together in the session.
Mobility tools come in all shapes, sizes and types. Technology has really come into the mobility tool space and changed the game over the last few years. Vibration, compression, and hot and cold therapy are all options in mobility tools now.
Some new technology-driven tools can be expensive and hard to transport and use, so I really like to stick to the basics when I incorporate mobility tools into my practice.
Many clients can’t afford the couple hundred to a few thousand dollars that some of the new tech items cost. I tend to weigh the pros and cons of these devices and purchase them for in-session or clinic use for my clients, then offer more inexpensive and practical mobility tools for sale for in-home use.
Foam rollers are a great item to show clients how to use and utilize in their home. A roller can be used for both soft tissue release of tight muscles and during a workout as a training aid.
Foam is a misleading term, because rollers come in all shapes and sizes and can be made of multiple different types of material. What matters is what works with your practice and what the client feels comfortable using.
A newer addition to the foam roller family are rollers that use vibration technology. I think we are going to see many, many more of these higher technology type rollers coming out; it will be interesting to see what science says about them.
Mobility balls are portable and inexpensive, or your clients can use items from around the house. I utilize golf balls, lacrosse balls or baseballs; connected balls that hit the trigger points along the spine; and even some larger workout balls to apply traction to clients’ bodies.
Mobility balls are cheap and easy to throw in a gym bag or suitcase for travel and easily stored for at-home use. I use them frequently during my muscle work sessions with clients. I will position connected balls under the base of the head or under their sacrum while I work; this applies some trigger-point work while I work on the rest of the body.
Mobility bands store and travel easily as well. A good quality mobility band may be less inexpensive than a mobility ball. They can be used both to aid in creating mobility and for workouts, so bands make a great addition to your or your clients’ gym bag.
Mobility bands can be used for stretching and resistance training. A band is a product everyone can use, and it can do multiple things, such as prepare the body for a training session and also be used during and after the training session.
Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Mobilization Tools
An instrumented assisted soft tissue mobilization, or IASTM, tool can be utilized both in your office and at home. Handheld tools work great when you can educate your clients on how to use them, and they are great for self-care, too.
You can work with IASTM tools on your clients and use them on yourself as well. IASTM tools can be quite expensive, but a few companies have designed less-expensive models for at-home use.
Cupping is an old practice that has become new again recently and is another option as a mobility tool. Soft cups give us the option of mobility while using them.
Cups are a tool that, with a little bit of knowledge, you can utilize in both your practice and for your own self-care. Cupping offers a different approach than most mobility tools because it lifts the tissue up instead of pushing it into the body. Using cups while moving a restricted region of the body is a somewhat newer practice that is beginning to take flight.
I have enjoyed incorporating cupping into my practice for the last 12 years, and using movement with the cups has been a great addition to my work. I also instruct my clients how to do this on their own, which works wonderfully at times I cannot see them or when their issue is something minor they can address on their own.
A newer option making its way into the mobility tool scene are floss bands, which are thin, long bands that provide a combination of compression and fascial shearing. Mostly targeting the joint areas, floss bands are helping people gain mobility in a new way.
There are some precautions to take with mobility floss bands because they are used very tightly; avoid prolonged use on an area so as not to cut off blood flow. If floss bands are given to a client, the practitioner should give good instructions, using the band to show exactly how it is to be used so as not to cause any damage to tissue.
Practice Working with Tools
There are a multitude of options for mobility tools out there so learning how, when and why to use them is a must. The best tool is the one that is used, and used correctly. If you or your client purchase a tool and it sits in the corner collecting dust, it’s obviously not going to help you.
When you utilize mobility tools in your practice and also use them on yourself, education and practicing with them is key. I often see misinformation on the science behind certain mobility tools, and the internet and social media are full of companies and influencers representing products and using them in ways that look interesting but really do not help people with mobility.
Using products that have third-party, scientifically unbiased research and expert experience behind them is a must. In the world of muscle recovery and mobility work there are multiple ways to do the same thing, so finding a product that works for you may require you to weed through the gimmicks to the tools that can actually help.
Learning how to use mobility tools in your practice and for self-care can be fun when you are learning from people who really understand the body and what can help people move better. A mobility tool is just that—a tool, an addition to the knowledge you already possess about helping people with their mobility and self-care.
Tools Provide Options
Utilizing mobility tools in your practice opens up a few things for you. It gives you an extra modality to add to your services. Tools also give the client an option for at-home follow-up and homework, or a go-to option to help with their care when you are not available.
Tools also open up your options for retail for some added income, or options for you to hold classes and teach techniques. Many of the bigger tool companies offer teaching seminars on how to use their products and also how to sell them; they may offer clinics, gyms and practitioners special pricing or affiliate links to help practitioners profit from representing the products for the company.
The companies that have produced high-quality products want certified or accredited practitioners representing their products and companies. These are the companies and tools you want to work with. They will often have high standards of production, science and business. When you represent a certain mobility tool to your clients, the last thing you want is to find out the company has bad practices and is just trying to make a dollar, or its tools are not backed by science. You are not just choosing a tool—you are choosing to support the company behind that tool.
Utilizing tools in your practice is fun and exciting. The options are vast and it can feel overwhelming, but check out a few of these options and do the research.
You will find the right tools for your clients and practice—and the perfect tools for your own self-care.
About the Author
Jill Magee, CMT, is an expert in the field of body mechanics and muscle balance with specialization in athletic assessment and corrective training. She is a RockTape ambassador and RockFit instructor, holds a bachelor’s degree in exercise science and sports coaching, and is a certified personal trainer.