Foam Rolling: It Hurts So Good!


Healthy Living - December 29, 2015
JP Stowe, ATC 

JP-Stowe.jpgWith a new year right around the corner, most people will be making resolutions to lose weight and be healthier. With that comes many hours at the gym each week, a lot of time on the treadmill, and a ton of sore muscles! When we get sore, our motivation to continue working out decreases and our resolution is put in the rearview mirror, but that doesn’t have to happen. Try foam rolling!

What is foam rolling?

Foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release (SMR) which can be done with a variety of tools beyond foam rollers, such as medicine balls, handheld rollers, or other assistive devices. Foam rollers vary in density, surface structure, and even temperature modifications. SMR focuses on the neural and fascial systems in the body that can be negatively influenced by poor posture, repetitive motions, or dysfunctional movements. These mechanically stressful actions are recognized as an injury by the body, initiating a repair process. This cycle follows a path of inflammation, muscle spasm, and the development of soft tissue adhesions (also known as “trigger points” or “knots”) that can lead to altered neuromuscular control and muscle imbalance. The adhesions reduce the elasticity of the soft tissues and can eventually cause a permanent change in the soft tissue structure. SMR focuses on alleviating these adhesions to restore optimal muscle motion and function.

By using your own body weight to apply pressure where needed, a foam roller allows you to effectively and efficiently target these muscle adhesions and other areas of tension while aiding muscle recovery after exercise. It can help to increase blood flow to affected areas, increase flexibility, and decrease soreness and recovery time after workouts.

How do I use a foam roller?

Foam rolling should be done before static or dynamic stretching activities, improving the tissue’s ability to lengthen during stretching activities. Foam rolling can also be done as part of the cool-down. The most common muscles to foam roll with the greatest benefits are the calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, IT bands, latissimus dorsi, glutes and piriformis, and the muscles of the thoracic spine.

Slowly roll the muscle at a rate of 1-2 inches per second until the most tender spot is found. Hold on that spot while relaxing the muscle and discomfort is reduced, between 20 and 30 seconds. Continue to roll, working out all of the adhesions in the muscle. During the exercises it is important to maintain core stability. Use the drawing-in maneuver (pulling the navel in toward the spine) to maintain stability in the spine, pelvis, and hips. Take the time to experience the exercises and discover how slightly modifying positions or angles can target different areas of different muscles.

How do I choose the right foam roller for my needs?

As a commonly available product on the fitness marketplace, foam rollers are available for purchase in a variety of different materials, surface textures, and sizes. The standard foam roller tends to be 6 inches in diameter and 12 inches in length, however a longer length would be recommended if you intend to target the muscles in your back. Foam rollers up to a length of 36 inches are available and best intended for use on the upper back and shoulders. Foam rollers can also come with a covering that includes bumps and “fingers” that can target those adhesions even better.  Furthermore, those prone to fascial discomfort will benefit more from a higher-density product. The higher-density materials increase durability of the product, so if you are purchasing for a gym, sports team or intend the product to be shared, opting for a higher durability foam roller will add longevity to your investment.

Foam rolling is not appropriate for everyone, including those with congestive heart failure, kidney failure, or any organ failure, bleeding disorders, or contagious skin conditions. If you have medical issues, please seek the advice of a medical professional before starting SMR or foam rolling activities

Foam rollers are an excellent piece of equipment to assist muscle recovery and tension relief. The benefits of applying self-myofascial release massage include enhanced muscle recovery and increased flexibility and blood flow, which in turn can enhance overall athletic performance. Don’t let your New Year’s resolution fall by the wayside just because you are sore and tired. Keep at it, and take the time to add foam rolling to your workout routine. And remember, it may hurt, but it hurts so good!
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