Craig’s Corner: What Makes The Gelliprene® Massage Balls So Special?

Craig Olschansky, Founder and CEO of Gelliflex®, is also the inventor of the Abacus®. He has gone over ever meticulous detail of the massage device with careful thought. 

One of his proudest parts of this customizable self-massage tool is the interchangeable Gelliprene® massage balls that are designed specifically for a better tactile and therapeutic feel. He shares a closer look at what makes these gel-balls so special.

Craig, tell us a little bit about yourself and where the idea of the Abacus® came from.

I’m a lawyer, business owner, husband, father, family man, and inventor. After sitting at a desk hunched over a keyboard and papers for many hours over many years, I ended up with back and neck problems that caused pain in my fingers, thumbs, hands, wrists, arms, and elbows. I enjoy tennis, swimming and running around with my wife and kids. I am just a regular guy with a job, family, and hobbies. But over time my lifestyle started to affect my ability to do things and be active. Pain was a constant for me. My wife and family are the most important thing in my life and I needed to figure out a way to manage my pain.

Finding the answer started off with buying every kind of self-massage therapy device on the market. I tried various devices but none of them really worked well for all of the areas of the hand and arm. Usually the devices I found were too hard or too cumbersome. Or they worked okay for my forearm, but not my hand or fingers. Or vice versa. Like many of you out there, I had a basket of massage therapy devices at home. What I needed was something – one device – that could address all of these issues, rather than having a series of multiple tools to do different things.

So I designed and developed the Abacus® for myself (I built my first prototype out of wood, stainless rods and squeeze balls – it looked like an abacus!). I have spent well over three years working on the design with the goal of building a customizable, flexible and cost-effective self-therapy device. 

How did you come up with the Gelliprene® material for the balls used on the Gelliflex® Abacus®?

I hired a chemical engineer to research materials that might be candidates for injection molding balls around a core for my axle to slide through. This proved more challenging than I expected. I tested numerous materials not only for how they would feel, but also as to their hypoallergenic qualities, ability to withstand heat and UV light, and ability to be molded. I then had to test those materials at the manufacturer. At that point, we added and subtracted various components of the material in order to come up with a formulation that could be molded properly.

The whole process of developing the balls took over a year. To add to the layer of complexity of this process, we wanted to be able to produce balls of various firmnesses as well. This would allow the user to customize the device and create thousands of restorative combinations that would target areas in just the right firmness levels they desired.

The Gelliflex Abacus

Can you explain what the difference in ball firmness provides to the user?

There are lots of massage balls out there, most of them are pretty hard. For those made of materials like polymers, elastomers and rubbers, hardness is measured on the "Shore Durometer Hardness Scale". The Shore Scale has different hardness tiers ranging from the Shore 00 tier (for measuring the softest materials) to the Shore D tier, which measures the hardest materials.

When it comes to massage, we at Gelliflex® think softer materials are safer, have more penetrating but less damaging effect on the tissue and fascia and are especially suited for hand, forearm, finger, wrist and elbow use. The Abacus®Gelliprene® balls are made from soft, non-latex elastomer, each color representing a different firmness. From our softest ball at Shore 00-24 (our purple ball), to a Shore 00-40 (our green ball), and our most firm – a Shore 00-55 (our blue ball). We are trying to make self massage with our device feel more like what you would feel if you could get to a massage therapist.

We recently published a blog post detailing where our balls fall on the Shore Durometer Hardness Scale. 

What makes this Gelliprene® material so special? What sets it apart from competitors?

It is able to be made less firm than other balls but still retain its shape. Most of the balls on the market today are extremely hard like a lacrosse ball, but we wanted to produce options and allow people to deal with different issues with different firmnesses. We feel that self-care is not a one stop solution – there are all kinds of people with all kinds of issues, so options are what we designed for. You really have to feel these gel-balls to believe how amazingly soft they are. 

We also wanted the product to not include any latex as some people are allergic to it. Our balls also do not use silicone, which is a material that degrades easily. Our Gelliprene® material has a better feel than foam, can easily be cleaned and maintained, and is able to be injection molded. So besides being able to be manufacturable, we really wanted to stick to the mission of this product: being a highly customizable device that provides the consumer with a variety of options when it came to the balls.

The blue Gelliprene balls on the Gelliflex Abacus

We also believe that that there is nothing better than a professional massage, but you can’t always get one whenever you want to. So we wanted to simulate that experience as closely as possible. Compared to our competitors, these balls feel closer to what a massage therapist’s hand would feel like.

Will the balls lose their firmness over time and need to be replaced?

They are designed in a way that they should not lose their firmness and should not need to be replaced. Our balls will need to be cleaned regularly, as the softer material can pick up dirt and dust. However, maintenance is relatively easy. We recommend using bleaches disinfectant wipes or diluted mild dish soap (without de-greasing agents) and water. Isopropyl Alcohol can also be used. For a more silky feel, you can apply some cornstarch to the gel-balls.

We also recommend avoiding using vegetable or vegetable based products, solvents, and bleach on the balls. A high concentration of dish soap or dish soap with degreasing agents may adversely affect the plastic compound which will result in a gradual hardening and shrinking of the Gelliprene® material over time. It's best to avoid leaving the balls in extreme heat or exposed to the sun for extended periods of time. Keep them away from newsprint of similar media — the print may "tattoo" the balls, like silly putty.

For detailed instructions on maintaining your Abacus®, check out our Care & Cleaning page.

Extra ball kit for the Gelliflex Abacus

The Abacus® comes with 4 balls total: one purple ball with Shore 00-24 (softest), two green balls with Shore 00-40, and one blue ball with shore 00-55 (most firm). Ultimately, we hope our customers decide which level of firmness they like most and customize the device based on that.

The ball assembly can be configured using multiple ball sizes, with one or two balls per assembly. Think of the Abacus® frame as a camera body and the balls as the lenses. The nuts can be unscrewed for the various balls and spacers to be installed. The balls are manufactured with a 52mm diameter and three different durometers.

Two ball assembly on the Gelliflex Abacus

We do offer additional balls (of all firmnesses) to purchase and also have a videos page that shows customers how to use the balls on the device for different movements and techniques. But of course, if you have any additional questions that you don't see an answer to, you can always email us at help@gelliflex.com.

How can the balls be used on the Abacus®?

Depending on the areas you are targeting, you can use the balls to perform rolling, squeezing or compression therapy through different movements and techniques.  Since the balls are interchangeable, there are thousands of restorative combinations you can put to use on this single device.

Rolling therapy exercises on the Gelliflex® Abacus® releases tension, restores gliding of muscles and fascia, and improves functional elbow movement. Squeeze techniques release tension, strengthen hands, increases blood flow, and improves hand movement and function. Compression techniques release tension, improves hydration, mobility of muscles and fascia, and increase upper arm movement and function.

The Abacus® can be positioned in a variety of ways to ensure optimal benefits and efficient use for the targeted hand, wrist, forearm, elbow and upper arm regions, as well as for the relaxed comfort and ease of your whole body. Try it horizontal, sideways, vertical (either handle up or down), angled, grasped, or nestled.

I recommend first selecting the soft purple gel-balls when exploring new techniques or movements, and then moving on to try the medium green and/or blue gel-balls, if desired. Begin self-massage with light pressure and increase gradually to moderate, according your body’s comfort and ease. Lighten pressure during self-massage when close to joint spaces or bony prominences. Stop if you experience sharp pain, numbness or tingling.

The soft purple balls on the Gelliflex Abacus are the softest.

Learn more about all the movements and their benefits in the Abacus Handbook (pdf).

What parts of the Abacus® are American made? 

This is a subject that is of utmost importance to me. I wanted the entire Abacus to be made in America. After searching high and low for a fabrication house that could make the frame and inner working of the frame, I unfortunately had no luck in finding one. That kind of manufacturing has sadly left the United States. But if anyone reading this knows of a manufacturing house that could build the frame, please send me an email! That being said, I am still proud that balls and ball core are made in the U.S.

I am working with a specialty manufacturer here on the East Coast that is quite innovative in the materials that I am using and I’m excited about the interesting formula we’ve come up with.

I'd also like to add when it came to finding a fulfillment center to assemble and ship out Gelliflex® Abacus® devices, there was one place that immediately came to mind for me: Gompers. For the past 70 years, the Arizona-based organization has been assisting individuals with disabilities in the Phoenix metro area to achieve independence and productivity in the community.

Why did you choose to have these parts made in the USA vs. overseas?

For quality control and overall quality. The balls are difficult to manufacture and I wanted to make sure that I would be able to manage that process. It is easier for me to do that when they are domestically made and I trust my domestic vendors for this part more than I would overseas providers. It's extremely important to me that we put a product out that meets (or exceeds) my expectations – our customers don't deserve anything less.

What are your plans for creating more ball accessories for the Abacus® in the near future?

Our mission as a brand is to build a highly customizable, flexible, and variable device. We want to provide the consumer one device that does multiple things. With that in mind, we are always brainstorming new balls of different shapes, sizes, firmness and potential new materials.

We are working with some really smart massage therapists, chiropractors and sports therapists to combine what might be missing in the market with what the consumers are asking for and will be coming out with more balls, attachments and accessories for the Abacus®. So stay tuned!

Purchase the Abacus® with the 4 balls included. Or purchase the individual balls. You can even purchase a replacement ball kit which includes the full ball and accessory kit that comes with the Abacus®.