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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - The MELT method, a user-friendly system of self-massage using balls and rollers, is gaining popularity among dancers, athletes, seniors and any exercisers who do not like pain.
"I'm sort of a comfort person, I fantasize I could have a massage every day," said Loren Silber, a certified MELT instructor who leads workshops in the method at a studio in New York City.
"If you're into torture, you probably not going to like this," she explained, while directing clients to roll their spines along foam rubber cylinders. "It's manual therapy you can do yourself."
MELT, which stands for Myofascial Energetic Lengthening Technique, focuses on stimulating the connective tissue (fascia) with a set series of movements described as "shearing, gliding, ripping."
It is the brainchild of Sue Hitzmann, a manual therapist and former group fitness instructor who was looking for a way to treat her own achy joints.
"I had to find a way to heal myself," said Hitzmann, "So I started playing around with small balls and rollers to decompress neck and lower back."
She said it worked for her.
"So I started giving clients homework. It got them out of the office, just coming in for tune-ups."
Hitzmann says she has trained more than 100 instructors nationwide.
"It's less costly because you can do it on your own," she said, so long as you purchase the package of balls, rollers and instructional DVD.
Dr. Nicholas DiNubile, spokesperson for the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), says the MELT method is not new, but it can be effective.
"This type of body therapy is similar to many others but it can be an effective way of getting blood flowing through the muscles and tendons," said DiNubile, a surgeon with the University of Pennsylvania.
"I do it myself, with little balls, when my body is tight," he said, "and I've had active relief done on myself to relieve tennis elbow."
He explained that we are made out of connective tissue.
"That's the muscular/skeletal system," he explained. "You're just working on tight muscles and tendons, elongating them. They tighten with age or imbalance in athletics."
DiNubile, author of the book "Framework for the Lower Back," believes MELT can improve posture and flexibility, possibly even lower stress.
"It probably has some benefits like that," he said.
But he is skeptical of other assertions.
"I have an open mind, but would still like to see science behind the claims regarding longevity and improved sleeping," he said.
And he says self-treatment will only take one only so far.
"Don't underestimate the skill that's needed for hands-on body therapy," he said. "This will not take the place of a professional."
But he said he did not think it's a bad thing.
"So many of our workouts focus on competing, I believe we don't spend enough time on flexibility: front of shoulder, back, too-tight hamstrings and calves," he said.
"Athletes doing one activity create imbalance. One thing often missing is soft tissue flexibility and mobility," he said. "Exercise is my passion. I want people to think broader."