When in doubt, knead it out

A little poking and prodding can knock down your back pain by 28 percent. That’s according to a 2009 BMJ study that found “acupressure”—a form of pressure-point massage—relieves back pain better than physical therapy (although both were effective).

“Tension tends to concentrate around acupressure points,” says Tony D’Angelo, C.S.C.S., a physical therapist and VP of clinical operations at Professional Physical Therapy. D’Angelo says that, with some pinpoint self-massage, you can improve tissue circulation, promote muscle relaxation and healing, and trigger the release of endorphins—neurochemicals that relieve pain.

While most experts agree a rubdown can relieve your achy back, there’s still some debate about what actually produces this benefit.

A 2014 study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found people who self-massaged their muscles using foam rollers were able to reduce muscle soreness . . . even when they didn’t massage the sore muscle itself. It’s possible acupressure and other forms of body massage may stoke your nervous system in ways that raise your pain threshold. As a result, pain seems to dissipate, those study authors say.

Regardless of how it works, self-massage seems to help with back pain. Grab a tennis ball and knead it out on these four pressure points.

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THESE TWO POINTS OF YOUR LOWER BACK

Imagine drawing a straight, vertical line through the middle of your right butt cheek and up to you lower back. If you ran your hand along that line and stopped two inches above the top of your butt, you’d be right on a pressure point that helps relieve back pain, says Stephanie Tyiska, a licensed Philadelphia-based acupressure practitioner and a faculty member at the Won Institute for Chinese Medicine. Especially if you spend all day sitting at a desk, this is a good one to target, she says. Get a tennis ball and wedge it between yourself and a chair or wall. Roll the ball around that point and the corresponding point on the other side of your lower back for one to two minutes, three to five times a day.

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YOUR OUTER BUTT CHEEKS
Let’s return to your butt for a minute. On the side of both your cheeks, there’s a point in the middle at roughly the place where your femur connects to your pelvis. This is another spot you’ll want to massage with a tennis ball, or roll on top of with a foam roller, Tyiska says. (If you hit the whole area, you’ll hit this spot. You don’t have to be super precise.) Especially if you’re stuck on a long drive, putting a tennis ball between this area and your car seat for a little shimmying massage can work wonders, she says.

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THIS AREA ON THE BACK OF YOUR HEAD
If you’re fond of pinching your cell between your head and shoulder—not a good idea—the strain you’re putting on your neck can lead to back pain, Tyiska says. (Ditto craning forward over your smartphone for hours each day.) Using both your hands, run your fingers up your neck toward the back of your head until they reach the bottom ridge of your skull. You’ll feel it. Now slowly rub your fingers back and forth along that ridge and out toward your ears. Again, do this for 1 to 2 minutes 3 to 5 times a day.

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ANY PLACE THAT HURTS
If you have a specific point of soreness in your back, D’Angelo recommends taking that tennis ball—or something firmer, like a lacrosse or golf ball—and using the floor or a wall to wedge that ball against your sore spot. Hold the ball there for 30 to 40 seconds, then try to stretch out the surrounding tissue. That’s a good way to disperse your pain, he says.