Roll With It
Smart Philadelphians are skipping surgery, soothing muscles, and easing aches and pains, all with the help of a little ball. (Reprinted from GROW magazine Summer 2004 issue)

Body Rolling Most Americans aren't really aware of their own bodies-that is, until something goes wrong. Then, with the first twinges of back pain or the slightest swelliing of the knees, they're off to a surgeon, chiropractor or masseuse to fix the problem. Now, thanks to body rolling, a series of stretching routines utilizing a small rubber ball, Philadelphians are heading off problems before they begin and rolling away injuries and chronic pain that may have plagued them for years.

Although there are many stretching and strengthening routines that incorporate exercise balls, most techniques referred to as body rolling are based on a trademarked system created in the late 1970'2 by Yamuna Zake, a New York instructor and herbalist. Zake continues to work as an instructor today, and she has certified hundreds of others, inclduing Amy Rejba, a Philadelphia nurse practitioner who offers private sessions and body-rolling workshops at Graduate Hospital. She says body rolling can benefit anyone "because it doesn't require a high level of fitness to start."

To watch body rolling in action, you might also think it looks too easy to be effective. Basically it involves sitting, lying or in some other way positioning your body on a rubber ball (typically between 6 and 10 inches in diameter) then rolling your body weight along the ball to loosen and work muscles in a specific order. It may simply look like a new way to stretch, but once you get on a ball you quickly realize how different body rolling is from the basic stretches you learned in gym class. In fact, it's more similar to massage than stretching, and most people who roll say that's the reason they like it.

"It's amazing," says Peter Pratt, a massage therapist Rejba introduced to body rolling. "You're really able to get into the muscle more efficiently and work it.... Plus you don't have to spend money for a massage." You do, however, need to take a body-rolling class, which will cost about the same as a yoga or pilates class. But once you are familiar with the technique, you can purchase a ball for about $18 (they're available online at and roll at home.

So it feels good-almost anyone who has tried body rolling can attest to that. But is the feel-good aspect reason enough to do it?Janine Galati, a personal health consultant and the owner of Alternative Health & Fitness Concepts on Walnut Street, says there are plenty of other benefits to body rolling. For one, it helps drain the lymphatic system. "You know that little recycle bin on your computer desktop? Your lymphatic system is like that-a pathway to move all the waste products through the liver," says Galati. "lt's like a drain and you don't want it to get blocked up. Body rolling can help keep it moving."

Body Rolling Body rolling also improves circulation, which can make your skin look better and keep your muscles and bones supple and strong. In addition, Rejba says, it improves flexibility, lengthens the muscle and makes fascia (connective body tissue) more mobile. "Tight muscles hold toxins, they're not getting proper circulation and they're more susceptible to chronic inflammation and pain," says Rejba. So lengthening muscles with body rolling also helps prevent injury.

Galati believes the benefits go one step further well, make that deeper-to stimulate the bone. "Bones shouldn't be brittle, hard and dense, they should be supple.... [Body rolling] works to stimulate the bone and nurture it." While traditional exercise can also stimulate bones and help prevent diseases like osteoporosis, Galati says those types of exercise create a shearing force that travels across the bone. Body rolling, she says, works deep enough to reach the bone and stimulate it, and does so in a way that works the bone in the direction it grows, parallel to the muscle that lays against it.

"Yamuna really has the impression that body rolling is able to improve bone vitality," says Rejba. "But there have been no specific studies to prove that." Still, she does agree that bons can benefit from body rolling, even if not directly, because tight muscles put an unnecessary strain on the bones they lay against. Stretching and lengthening those muscles decreases the stress on the bone. This is especially important for people such as body builders or traditional athletes, whose bones, says Galati, are like "root-bound plants," strained and smothered by tight, bulging muscles.

Although most people who roll remain unaware of the specific physical benefits, such as improved circulation, lymphatic drainage and bone vitality, they are certainly aware that it's helping them in some way. Pratt says that, from running, he had plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the tissue supporting the foot arch that often causes heel pain. "So there are these smaller balls that I stand on and roll with," he says. "Once I started doing that, [the plantar fasciitis] immediately cleared up."

Galati also says body rolling can eliminate the need for surgery, citing the case of client Steve Shapiro, a former college athlete. Shapiro was facing surgery because he had almost no cartilage left in his knees, but after a few sessions rolling, the pain subsided and he was able to walk without a brace. "He still doesn't need surgery. He's walking fine and even the appearance of his knees has improved," says Galati.

And Rejba has found that body rolling helps with other non-orthopedic conditions, including tissue damage from breast cancer, pelvic surgeries and chronic pelvic pain. "It can even help someone who is wheelchair-bound," she says.

Perhaps the best reason to get rolling, however, has nothing to do with your body at all: "It forces you to slow down and relax," says Rejba. "That's something Americans definitely need help with."

So, whether it's to prevent injuries, reduce chronic pain or release stress and relax, it's time for more Philadelphians to get on the ball.


Alternative Health & Fitness Concepts ®
2300 Walnut Street, #201   ·   Philadelphia, PA 19103
1-877-9Pilates   ·   Phone 215-567-4969   ·   Fax 215-567-4881   ·