Foam rolling, or self-myofascial release, is becoming a popular tool everyone from athletes to office workers are using to treat their sore or painful muscles. Nothing beats the great feeling from a sports massage or a deep tissue treatment. However, foam rolling is a great way to prolong the benefits of your massage sessions and is useful as a self-care technique between massage appointments. The Massage Therapists and Personal Trainers and Hand in Health Massage Therapy are here with all the useful tips on how foam rolling can help you with your health and wellness goals.
If you’re looking for a Massage Therapist or Personal Trainer in the Syracuse, NY area that can help you with your self-care, we invite you to contact our North Syracuse or Downtown Syracuse locations to book an appointment.
What is foam rolling and why do we need to do it?
Foam rolling is a self-myofascial release technique or SMR. “Myo” means muscle and fascia is a connective tissue found throughout the body. Muscles of the body are wrapped in layers of fascia, a complex webbing-like connective tissue that surrounds nearly everything in the body (organs, blood vessels, etc). When most people think of SMR or stretching, they usually only think of muscles. But because fascia wraps all muscles and encapsulates all joints it can’t be ignored and will likely follow the pattern of muscles. So, if a muscle is tight, the fascia wrapping and surrounding that tissue will also be tight.
There are receptors located in the muscles (muscle spindles) and tendons (golgi tendons) that are protective in function to prevent injury against an unsafe stretch or unsafe tension. However, when we experience tissue trauma of any kind like a sudden muscle contraction, repetitive overuse, extended periods of inactivity or poor posture we find myofascial tightening. This muscle dysfunction is treated by the body as injury and causes the muscle spindles to fire in order to protect the body against further injury. This results in increasing muscle tension and causes increased muscle spasm in the surrounding muscle groups. Commonly referred to as the cumulative injury cycle, this myofascial tightening restricts proper blood flow and circulation which causes adhesions to form in the soft tissue.
Like massage therapy, foam rolling can break this pain and spasm cycle by releasing muscle adhesions throughout the body and restore proper function.
What are the Benefits of Foam Rolling?
Sustained pressure using your body weight on a foam roller decreases the neuromuscular receptor activity and causes the adhesion to release. This would restore proper muscle contractility and fascial aligning along the muscle as well as restoring proper range of motion and aid in proper muscle/joint function.
Foam rolling may also help decrease delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) that can accompany exercise. Research shows that those who use a foam roller or roller massage intervention for 10-20 minutes after performing high-intensity exercise reduces muscle tenderness and increases joint movement.
Foam rolling increases blood flow to the tissues you target with the roller. This can be especially beneficial for fascia, tendons, and ligaments, which have relatively little blood flow under normal circumstances.
Where can I use a Foam Roller on myself?
Scientifically speaking, there are no contraindicated sites that you cannot foam roll. Though, if you have implanted hardware due to an injury, or any other special consideration, it would probably be best to consult your physician before applying sustained pressure to this specific location. It is also wise to stay away from bony landmarks and keep your foam rolling sessions focused on larger and denser muscle groups.
Common areas to foam roll:
- Gutes/Hips/Hip Flexors
- Tensor Fasciae Latae – Iliotibial Band
- Latissimus Dorsi
- Thoracic Region/Mid Back
- Sacral compression (contraindicated with herniated discs)
- Piriformis/Hip Rotators
How often and When should I foam roll?
There is technically no limit on how much you can foam roll. However, foam rolling should be one of several components to an all encompassing regimen, that is, one should not only foam roll. It is important to strengthen areas as well and to consider that if one keeps getting adhesions or needs to foam roll a given area, that area should be assessed for weakness, inflexibility, or poor mechanics and not just use foam rolling as a band-aid when another underlying issue may be going on. For example, if I lack depth in my squat due to a lack of dorsiflexion in the ankle, I should not just keep foam rolling my calves because my calves are contracting to activate my posterior chain.
There are several studies and opinions from one side of the spectrum to the other. That is, some studies have shown it has helped athletic performance while others say it had no effect. Speaking more so to the average non-collegiate or professional athlete population, a full body foam rolling routine would be greatly beneficial to help prevent your body’s joints and muscles from decreasing in ROM or flexibility with daily use and age.
Studies suggest that using a foam roller prior to physical activity can help increase flexibility and athletic performance, but it may have little or even a detrimental effect on strength performance. However, using a foam roller after exercising can help reduce soreness. It is always best to consult with your trainer to determine if foam rolling is appropriate for specific scenarios. But for the everyday person, roll away!
The time and duration recommended for optimal results during foam rolling is at least 30 seconds. There is no limit to how long you should hold compression on a given spot or area. You can hold on an area until you’ve achieved the desired feel or outcome for that area.
5 of our Favorite Foam Rolling Techniques from Your Massage Therapist & Personal Trainer
Our Tips for Foam Rolling
- Roll each muscle group for 1-2 minutes and roll very SLOWLY. When you hit a tight spot that is painful or uncomfortable, HOLD on that spot for 30-45 seconds. You should feel the tension release slowly.
- Make sure to keep breathing, even when it’s painful. Holding your breath won’t allow the muscles to release and relax.
- Be sure to RELAX the muscle as best you can. If you are flexing or tensing the muscle group you are trying to roll out, you won’t feel the trigger points you need to release.
- The next day your muscles may be a bit sore. That’s normal, they should feel slightly fatigued and possibly a tiny bit tender. Wait 24-48 hours to foam roll again if you’re sore.
- Never roll on a joint or bone and use caution when rolling your lower back. Also, when rolling your upper back be careful not to roll directly on your spine, instead always roll one side of your back at a time by slightly leaning to that side. There are small knobs on your vertebrae, called facets, that could get injured when rolling directly on your spine.
- If an area is too painful to apply direct pressure, shift the roller and apply pressure on the surrounding area and gradually work to loosen the entire area.
- Repeat as desired.
Should I Foam Roll or Get a Massage?
Our advice is both! Foam rolling is a great self-care tool that you can do everyday with proven results. However, sometimes foam rolling doesn’t permanently take away all our aches or pains or fix the problem. So we need to ask, “Why are my muscles tight and sore?”. If the cause is not addressed, you’ll forever be rolling the same muscles. By working with a Licensed Massage Therapist, Certified Personal Trainer or Physical Therapist you can get to the root cause and determine the “why”. Common examples may be overtraining, increased neural tension (nerve impingements), and poor posture. A regular routine of exercise, massage therapy and self-myofasical release by using a foam roller under the guidance of a licensed professional is a solid plan to meet your health and wellness goals.
Where to Learn More About Correct Foam Rolling Techniques
Want some help perfecting your personal foam rolling? Are you located in Onondaga County or the greater Syracuse, NY area? Hand In Health is ready to customize a massage therapy and fitness plan for you. Let our Licensed Massage Therapists and Certified Fitness Professionals, show you the benefits of how massage and fitness align. Contact our wellness centers in Downtown Syracuse or North Syracuse today!