In her novel The Lizard’s Tail, the Argentine magical realist Luisa Valenzuela gives her protagonist Lopez Rega three testes. It’s a metaphoric symbol of his virility woven into a satire of power in a fictional South American country. That’s what came to mind when a friend asked me, “How did you resolve your neck issues?”
Of the many questions I’m asked about my experience at Dirty Kanza, my neck and how I dealt with it is more popular than how I fed myself. As a result, a post seemed warranted.
My answer was simple: three balls—just not the sort of balls referenced above. However, I couldn’t help thinking back on a lecture of Valenzuela’s I’d attended back in the 1980s in which she discussed The Lizard’s Tail.
But my solution has been devoid of metaphor.
I worked with a physical therapist for four months and our routine was relatively simple. There was a certain amount of back cracking and a few exercises, but mostly our work focused on flexibility and range of motion. The three balls in question are lacrosse balls: firmer than tennis balls or racquet balls, but not so firm as billiard balls.
With the single, orange, ball I place it against a wall and then lean against it and roll up, down, back and forth, looking for tense spots in my shoulder. To get sufficient pressure and leverage, I will often place the ball somewhere between four and 4.5 feet off the ground so that a significant portion of my weight bears against it. When traveling, it’s easy to whip the ball out, find an empty wall and writhe against it. Were someone to see me, I can guarantee they’d think I was coming down from a hard narcotic. It has got to look stranger than a walrus playing tennis.
The other two balls, taped together as they are in the rough contours of a peanut, are meant to be used on the floor. Ideally, I place them three feet on front of a bed or closed door. I lay on the balls so that they straddle my spine, tuck my hands beneath the door and then roll back and forth. To this I add hip lifts and twists to the left and right. Done right, I’ll get little cracks in my spine, letting me know I’ve restored some recently reduced range of motion.
Most items I review I write about because I believe they have the power to offer most any rider an improved experience. This recommendation is a bit different. It’s only applicable if:
- You’ve gotten off the bike and noticed your neck was stiff
- You’ve experienced pain in your shoulders or neck as a result of a long ride
- The pain you’ve experienced has been a stabbing pinpoint or burning along the run of a nerve
- Stiffness in your spine has made adopting your usual position on the bike more difficult
I realize that such a list of conditions could capture almost any cyclist over 40. So be it.
The best part of this course of treatment is that it only requires about five minutes of my time. Or maybe the best part is that it is something that is nearly impossible to overdo.
You can purchase a set of three lacrosse balls for less than $10 and it is possible to see results in less than a week.
I can’t oversell how much this has helped me. It has made long road rides not just enjoyable, but possible in a way that was becoming increasingly difficult. Three balls. They made all the difference.
I may not be more virile, but there is power in the security that I can ride without pain.