Recovery Tools for Runners

Photo: JustLife

Stay Healthy with Effective Recovery Gear

Good news: You’re running a lot. Bad news: Aches and pains are inevitable. It’s a natural result of pushing your body, but you can mitigate such soreness.

Stretching, yoga, and weight training all help. But adding self-care tools that help you recover between runs—long runs, hard runs, any run—puts your health in your own hands. Literally.

Here’s a look at recovery tools available to runners, organized by price, low to high.

Lacrosse Ball

Yes, a simple lacrosse ball. Because of its density (just the right hardness with a little give), a lacrosse ball can do wonders in undoing knots and generally working out tight muscles and fascia, the connective tissue between your skin and muscles. You can use one to roll out the bottoms of your feet, massage spots on your back (by putting it between you and the wall and rolling around), rolling out tight spots on hamstrings, etc.

Compression Socks

Compression socks increase circulation, which reduces swelling and can help overall recovery. They’re also said to increase oxygen delivery to muscles and help reduce lactic acid build-up. Plus, they can just feel good on tired legs and feet following a long or particularly challenging run.

Rollers and Roller Balls

Foam rollers, both the smooth kind and the bumpy kind, enable you to give yourself all sorts of recovery support. Rolling specific parts of your legs addresses tightness in both muscles and fascia. Rolling out your back does the same, plus it can help increase mobility of your spine. You can also lie with your spine along the roller (the smooth kind), and open your chest with gentle stretches (arms out wide like a snow angel). 

Rollers range from soft to hard (more dense), and some are made of varying densities in one roller. The harder the foam of the roller, the harder pressure massage it provides.

Bumpy foam rollers offer more aggressive self-massage, and some are more aggressive than others. Some have grooves cut into them which offer variation in pressure along your muscles and fascia. Some rollers have large protrusions of foam sticking out of them—think of those as very strong masseuse thumbs ready to dig into tight muscles.

Roller balls achieve the same thing as foam rollers; they allow you to target certain body parts with self-massage. These balls range in size from lacrosse ball-sized to small watermelon-sized. The former is great for feet or knots in the back or hamstrings. The latter works great on tight hip/glute muscles.

Closeup of a young woman shoulders leaning on a roller ball against wall to fix back ache Photo: Khosrork

Handheld Rolling Devices

A range of rolling devices exist, from stick-shaped tools that you roll on your quads and calves to contraptions made out of skateboard wheels that clasp around muscles like calves and forearms. These types of tools enable you to mechanically vary the pressure applied as opposed to putting your bodyweight on a foam roller by lying on it.

Wearable Ice/Compression Combinations

Combination ice/compression systems work by holding ice directly on a body part while simultaneously providing compression to that body part. Going by the old adage of using Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation (RICE) as an injury treatment plan, these cover two out of four of those strategies.

Massage Guns

These handheld devices work with percussion to massage muscles, relieve tension, and reduce fluid buildup deep within muscles. By doing so, they increase circulation. Percussive massage can also help release lactic acid, break up scar tissue, and activate the nervous system.

Personal Electric Stim (E-Stim)

Simply attach electrode pads to your affected area of pain and turn your personal electric stimulation, or E-Stim, machine to “On.” These types of machines work by contracting and releasing your muscles to increase circulation and improve strength of the muscle while lengthening that muscle for improved range of motion. 

Compression Boot Systems

By wrapping this system over your legs, from toe to hip, and then turning the external power device on (with a choice of settings), you create a compressive squeeze that contracts and releases. These pneumatic pressure devices, or “PCDs,” are intended to increase circulation and decrease fluid buildup and blood lactate throughout your legs.

Definitive research is lacking in how well any of these recovery devices and/or methods work. The best research, for runners, is trying them. If they feel good to you and help you feel more recovered, then they work for you.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.