Foam rolling, everyone is doing it and you should too
I’m gonna let you in on a little secret.
I have a love/hate relationship with my foam roller.
I love the way my body feels more mobile and fluid after just a minute or two of rolling just the right spots. But, I hate how much it sometimes hurts when I ignore my body and my foam roller.
I know trying to convince you to do something that is potentially painful is not the greatest selling point, but hear me out.
I am actually a big fan of foam rolling and this is my second post about it. If you haven't read it, I highly suggest you check out Stop rolling your IT band to fix your knee pain.
Sadly though, when I ask clients about their foam rolling habits they stutter, or ummm or laugh. They know they should but they just don't do it often enough (or at all)
Foam rollers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, with bumps and nubs and some even vibrate.
A cylindrical log shaped roller is probably what most associate with foam rolling. They can be made from everything from dense styrofoam to PVC pipes wrapped in foam padding but you can use any one of a variety of tools like a foam rolling stick, a cane with knobs on the end and even different sized balls ranging from golf balls to balls the size of a cantaloupe.
The popularity of foam rolling is also increased by the fact that you can do it practically anywhere: the gym, the living room floor, your hotel room while traveling, even at your desk.
And while everyone can benefit from foam rolling, if you have rheumatoid arthritis or osteoporosis, foam rolling is usually contraindicated.
WHAT SCIENCE SAYS
There is a lot of conflicting information about foam rolling and that misinformation gets passed from one person to the next with little or no inquiry about whether or not it’s actually true.
Although there have been very few studies done on foam rolling, like massage, what we once thought foam rollers did, we have scientifically proven that some of this information is false.
The prevailing myth about foam rolling, also sometimes referred to as self myofascial release, is that it breaks up adhesive tissue fibers and melts fascia like butter. The truth is that “melting” fascia is impossible from a manual therapy perspective.
There has been some debate as to whether we should continue to call it “myofascial release” since the fascia isn’t actually being released.
The fact is fascia has the tensil strength of steel and is so deep and interconnected that it would be impossible to effect the entire “web.”
In actuality, foam rolling activates your parasympathetic nervous system and deactivates the pain signal from your brain causing your muscles to release their contraction/ relax.
Some other benefits of foam rolling include
Increase range of motion
Another popular myth about foam rolling is the harder the roller, the more beneficial it is.
Just like using a drill to hammer a nail doesn’t work, using a hard object such as a lacrosse ball when a softer tennis ball is more appropriate will yield better results. Remember the point is to reduce pain, not inflict it. Plus you could end up with muscle or nerve damage if done incorrectly.
A way to tell if the pressure is enough, is if it is uncomfortable but bearable and you feel relief after only 30-60 seconds. Start with a softer object or roller with no knobs or bumps and work your way up.
you have to roll every muscle group in order to benefit. This often leads people to believe that foam rolling takes too much time (time they don’t have) so they will skip it.
In actuality, a good, targeted foam rolling session should take no more than 5 to 10 minutes. Also, like stretching, you have to know if the muscle is over or underactive. Foam rolling an underactive muscle has little effect on decreased tension or increased flexibility. And rolling back and forth on an overactive muscle just causes hyper-irritability which will eventually lead to more pain.
FOAM ROLLING 101
Now that we know a little more about foam rolling let’s talk about some key areas you can foam roll and how to get the most benefit from it.
Knowing which areas to foam roll begins with knowing what the goal is.
If you’re trying to relieve tension, a static pressure for about 30-60 seconds is most beneficial. If you’re over 65, studies have shown that up to 90 seconds of foam rolling is most beneficial.
If you sit for long periods of time at a desk or have difficulty squatting at the gym some key muscles you want to target might be
Tensor Fascia Latae (Hip flexors)
Rectus Femoris (main quadricep)
Tibialis Anterior (muscle on the outboard side of your shin bone)
Latissimus Dorsi (between the rib cage and your armpit)
Upper trapezius (upper back)
If you wear high heels for work you might want to target
Lateral Gastrocnemius (outside portion of the calf)
Soleus (lower leg under the calf)
If you do a lot of work where your arms are above your head--carpenters, mechanics, construction workers you might want to target
Rotator cuff muscles
If the goal is to gain flexibility or temporarily increase range of motion a more traditional method of rolling up and down the length of the muscle is better.
Two keys to getting the most out of this type of foam rolling session is
Slow your roll - Slowing down your movements to about 1 inch per second. Rolling faster does nothing for the muscle because it does not allow enough time to engage your parasympathetic nervous system.
Break it up - for larger muscles such as the quads or hamstrings, start at the bottom of the muscle and roll half way up then roll from the halfway point to the other end of the muscle. This helps to slow you down and also not overwhelm your nervous system with too much stimuli.
Whichever goal you are trying to achieve always remember to use good posture. Keep your core engaged, spine straight and joints aligned. This will keep you from developing back, shoulder or hip problems from foam rolling.
If you’re ever confused about how to use your foam roller, bring it in on your next visit and if you need help choosing a roller, I’d be happy to give you some pointers.
Remember, your foam roller won’t replace your regular massage, but it can be a great tool to use between sessions to extend the work we do together in the office.