DIY Massage for Writers

By Debbie Burke


As authors, our “sit” muscles work overtime. No wonder they ache and cramp. 

When I start earning six figures from my novels, first thing I plan to do is hire a full-time massage therapist to undo the kinks in my body from writing.

Unfortunately…I foresee a long wait before that happens.

In the meantime, I found a helpful DIY tool to counteract “writer’s slump” caused by too much time sitting hunched over a computer.

The foam roller.

This device is inexpensive, has no moving parts, and doesn’t take up much space. By simply rolling on it, you can get a deep massage from the pressure of your body weight. Two doctors I talked to use a roller themselves.

Caution #1: consult your medical provider to be sure foam roller exercise is safe for your condition.

Caution #2: Do NOT use the roller directly on joints.

Caution #3: Using the foam roller requires getting down on the floor…then eventually getting back up again! Some of my parts are not original factory equipment, so exercises on the floor require planning.

Twice a week, I attend a foam roller class at the gym. Expert instructor Amy Lavin graciously agreed to demonstrate a few exercises.

Amy adds caution #4: Always remember to breathe.

Back Exercises: 

On a mat on the floor, lie lengthwise on the roller. Your head and the entire length of your spine rest on the roller. Let your arms relax at your sides. Gravity pulls your shoulders toward the floor. The stretch across your chest should feel good, not painful.

My doctor said simply lying in this position on the roller for 10 or 15 minutes every day is beneficial for the spine, even if you don’t go through the routine that follows.

  • While lying lengthwise on the roller, gently roll back and forth a couple of inches on either side of your spine. Your core muscles tighten to maintain balance and keep you from falling off. Strengthening the core also helps support your back.
  • Still lying lengthwise on the roller, extend your arms out from your sides, palms up, forming a T. Let your shoulder blades sink toward the floor to wrap around the roller, increasing the stretch through the chest. When you begin, your elbows may not be able to touch the floor. But, after several minutes, muscles should relax and allow your elbows to rest comfortably on the floor. This position also straightens posture.
  • Raise your arms in a Y over your head. That lengthens the spine and increases the stretch for your back. Take several deep breaths.
  • Slowly move your arms as if you’re making snow angels for several repetitions. Then reverse directions for more repetitions.


  • Raise both arms straight up toward the ceiling. Move your arms back and forth in a scissors motion. One arm goes above your head, the other down to your side, then reverse. Repeat for a minute.


  • Raise both arms above your chest and bend the elbows. Keeping the elbows bent, slowly lower the arms to the floor, rest for several beats, then raise arms so they crisscross over your chest. Continue raising and lowering the bent arms for at least a minute. When you begin this movement, your elbows may not be able to touch the floor but, as you repeat, muscles should loosen enough that your elbows can rest on the floor.


Exercises for “sit muscles”:

  • Glutes: Sit on the roller and roll back and forth. The weight of your body presses the roller deep into your glutes. Roll on one cheek for a minute or more. Then switch to the other cheek. I find at times there is a hard knot like a round rock in the center of each cheek. Roll over that knot several times in a circular motion. Reverse and roll in the opposite direction.



  • Hamstrings: Roll from the glutes down the backs of the thighs to the knees and back up. This massages the hamstrings. Repeat for 30 seconds to a minute.




  • The iliotibial (IT) band is a tendon that runs down the side of the leg from hip to tibia. It can flare up from too much sitting.

Lie on your side, propping yourself up with one elbow. Position the roller horizontally under your hip. Slowly roll from hip down almost to the knee. Stop before the knee joint and do not roll on the joint. Roll up and down the side of your thigh for several minutes. Repeat on the opposite side.

When my IT band gets grumpy (which is often), this rolling may be painful. Be careful and stop if you feel it’s too much. Relief comes later.

  • Hip flexors: Lie on your stomach with the roller positioned under your hips. Shift your weight slightly to one side so the hip flexor (the crease between your thigh and pelvis) is on the roller. Roll back and forth over the hip flexor for 30 seconds to one minute. Switch to other hip and repeat.
  • Quadriceps: Lie on your stomach and use your elbows to hold your chest off the mat. Position the roller horizontally under your quadriceps (fronts of your thighs). Roll up and down from top of thigh to just above the knee. Do not roll on the knee joint. Be careful—this pressure on your quads may be painful at first. As you repeat the exercise over time, the pain should lessen.

A big THANK YOU to Amy Lavin for demonstrating a DIY massage!


How about you, TKZers?

Have you tried a foam roller? Did it work for you? 

Do you have a favorite exercise to help “writer’s slump”? 


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About Debbie Burke

Debbie writes the Tawny Lindholm series, Montana thrillers infused with psychological suspense. Her books have won the Kindle Scout contest, the Zebulon Award, and were finalists for the Eric Hoffer Book Award and Her articles received journalism awards in international publications. She is a founding member of Authors of the Flathead and helps to plan the annual Flathead River Writers Conference in Kalispell, Montana. Her greatest joy is mentoring young writers.

34 thoughts on “DIY Massage for Writers

  1. Neat. Thanks. I’ve actually got one of those rollers in my closet. Given that I’m a pain in my own butt right now, this will encourage me to use it.

  2. Walking 1-2 hours a day, before I sit down to write, works amazingly well for me. I have been doing this for 14 years.

    If I miss my walk for a day or two, sitting at the computer for more than 30 minutes makes my back and shoulders ache.

    • TL, walking is my all-time favorite, too. It not only helps the kinks, it’s when I do much of my plotting. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Yoga is great. Even a good session once per week helps. Debbie, do you think some of these exercises will work without a roller?

    • Linda, the upper body stretches all work fine w/o the roller.

      There are lower body stretches you can do w/o the roller but, for me, the roller is much more effective on the glutes and IT band.

      I love yoga but my artificial parts don’t do so well with it.

      Stretching and keeping limber is the key.

    • Sometime I’ll have to try Pilates, Patricia. Friends swear by it.

      The older we get, the more time we have to spend just to maintain status quo!

  4. Thanks for including the photos of the exercises! Where can one buy a roller? I’ve never heard of them before. And I agree, the older we get the more time we spend just trying to maintain status quo if we can even do that…

    • I would guess you’d find them at Amazon. Chiropractors tend to carry this kind of thing, but probably with a high markup. Snap Fitness and their ilk. Maybe sporting goods store.

    • Laurie, a picture is worth a thousand words. Amy was a great model.

      Amazon, Walmart, Target, and many sporting goods stores carry them. They come in various lengths but 48″ works best for lying vertically on the spine.

  5. The roller sounds awesome, Debbie! I go to PT every Friday, and have for a solid year now. It’s a good thing I adore my physical therapist because I don’t see this schedule changing anytime soon. Hunching over a keyboard does a number on the body. Recently, my shoulder froze (again), but once that problem is fixed, I’ll ask her about the roller. Sounds like a great way to get the kinks out.

    • Sue, my orthopod prescribed PT or the roller. by using the roller, I’ve been able to avoid PT.

      Frozen shoulder is no joke. Hope it improves soon!

    • Sue, I had a frozen shoulder almost 3 years ago, and it lasted a year. I’m so sorry to hear you’re suffering one a second time! I went for 2 rounds of PT and it didn’t help me. Fortunately I found an excellent massage therapist. It was my hope that–like mononucleosis–one could only have a shoulder freeze once. Now I know that you can get both more than once. *headdesk* Take good care!

  6. A gym membership is worth the money. Except for a years-long break because of a bad disc, not caused by writing, I’ve worked out for many years. I don’t look like a female Marvel hero, and I’m still overweight, but the back is strong enough for the day to day yard work and butt sitting in front of the computer. I use Nautilus machines which keep me from hurting myself even more from my uncoordination.

    • Maggie, the instrument of torture is available online, as well as major retailers that carry sporting goods/fitness equipment.

      Kidding aside, when I first used the roller for IT and quads, it was quite painful. However, after a few sessions, it no longer hurt and obviously helped. But you have to judge according to your own body.

  7. You sold me! I’m pretty active (pickleball and/or walking/running every day). But my lower back pain is unbearable at times. My crappy insurance won’t pay for chiropractor (who has helped me in past) so I went and got a roller!

    Will let you know. Thanks!

    • Kris, I really hope it helps you! There are exercises for lower back where you lie on the roller horizontally (rather than lengthwise) but b/c of old injuries, I can’t do them. Check with a trainer or PT to see what would work best for you.

  8. Great post!

    Having recently paid the ultimate price for my “writer’s slump” in the form of surgery on my cervical spine, I am a newly-formed fanatic on exercise for writers. I work out every morning–mostly cardio now because I’m still not fully cleared for weights–and I get up and walk around every 90 minutes or so.

    I slouch when I write because I never learned how to touch-type, so the problem is particularly egregious for me.

    Exercise, folks! Whatever works for you, do it.

    • John, your story is the best testimonial for the value of exercise. Glad you’re making such a good comeback after a truly scary-sounding surgery. Way to go!

  9. Yoga and living in the mountains with hilly terrain and a dog who demands her “Walkies” helps with activity. I have a foam roller somewhere.
    I do a lot of “head writing” so I get up from the computer a lot. If only all paths didn’t lead through the kitchen.

    • Terry, dogs are wonderful motivators. I swear my last Shorthair could tell time. When his internal alarm clock went off, I had no choice but to take him for a long walk.

  10. I need to get a foam roller; my martial arts instructor has been after the adults for a while to get one so he can devote a class to stretching and self-massages.

    As for other exercise, I go to the gym 4-5 days a week- 2-3 days of running for 35-40 minutes and 2 days of strength training. And, as mentioned above, I attend martial arts 2 days a week. I’m relatively active, but have a very sedentary day-job tied to a desk.

    At least during my slow periods when I’m waiting for people to get back to me, I can do a little bit of writing. :o)

  11. What a terrific post, Debbie. The photos are extremely helpful! I’m delighted to learn how active TKZers are.

    I’ve only used a roller a few times, but I should definitely give it a go again because massages are so expensive. I have terrible knees, and they only keep me upright because I do weight routines 2-3 times a week, and do cardio 5 times. When I sit to write, I make sure I get up and walk around for 5 minutes after writing for 25. It’s a pain to break concentration, but bodies need to move and get oxygen flowing.

    For years I desperately wanted a chaise longue in my office so I could recline languorously as I wrote. Well, I finally got one–and it’s so soft and comfy that it’s hell to get in and out of!

    • Thanks, Laura! You sound pretty darn fit yourself!

      The chaise sounds dangerous–I’d nod off in no time. Of course, when you’re napping, your subconscious is hard at work, right?

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