by Dr. Andrea Ignacio
At InTouch we regularly recommend specific exercises or stretches to our patients, and this can include Foam Rolling areas of your body that will improve your condition or performance, or help reduce your pain.
This post is intended to provide you brief and basic Foam Rolling information, instructions and precautions (dos and don’ts) here in our blog (and soon in video format on our YouTube channel) to be reviewed before undertaking any of the specific Foam Rolling moves in our other videos.
You might have seen or heard of Foam Rolling and wondered what it is. We understand that most of our patients might not know what Foam Rolling is, or don’t understand it well enough to feel confident Foam Rolling safely on their own. As a rule, we teach our patients how to roll the area we’ve recommended in the clinic gym, with demonstration and then active supervised Foam Rolling by you, the patient and we always follow-up with an email that includes an instructional video for the exercises we’ve recommended, to help reinforce the importance of doing your home exercises.
Let’s get started!
Why should you Foam Roll and how does it help you?
When your muscles are not soft and supple, and adhesions form, you can lose range of motion, flexibility, and have painful movement. This in turn affects your performance, and whether you can participate fully in normal daily activities.
What is Foam Rolling?
Foam rolling is deep compression of the muscles with a dense foam cylinder, which breaks up and relaxes tight muscle adhesions and trigger points (knots).
More specifically, Foam Rolling is a form of Self-Myofascial Release (SMR), known to most people as deep massage. Foam Rolling utilizes the concept of autogenic inhibition to improve soft tissue extensibility. It relaxes the muscle, allowing the activation of the antagonist muscle (the muscle that does the opposite movement).
Compression is the key word, because foam rolling
is not about the rolling, it is about the pressure.
What are the benefits?
Studies done on foam rolling have shown:
- can help improve your range of motion
- helps to speed recovery after exercise
- can also reduce the soreness experienced post-exercise
- may also be able to improve flexibility long-term when a Foam Rolling program is followed for longer than 2 weeks.
- Foam rolling can lead to better physical performance
- One of the best things about Foam Rolling is that it is inexpensive and you can do it for yourself! This helps when you don’t have access or time to see a therapist or masseur.
Should you do it? Is it safe for you?
Foam rolling can be difficult for anyone who is overweight or weak, because you must support and move your own weight while rolling. If you’re unsure how to do a specific roll, please consult with us and we can find an accommodation that works for you! It can and will also be a little painful, although it should not be excruciating and the goal is not to torture yourself. It should also never cause bruising. Foam rolling is not for everyone, and anyone with arthritis or osteoporosis should consult with their doctor or therapist before starting foam rolling.
What is the best way to use Foam Roller?
Remember: It’s not the rolling that does the work, it’s the pressure/compression
Before rolling a new muscle (if you don’t know the anatomy well) look up the muscle you want to roll to get a picture in your mind of the direction and location of the muscle. Better yet, after doing this, confirm your information with one of our doctors or therapists, or with your personal trainer at the gym. If in doubt about direction or technique, ask & confirm.
- Start with slow rolling along or across the muscle – one inch per second
- Stop on tender spots and hold the pressure on that spot for 4 to 5 relaxed breaths until you can feel the muscle release.
- Do not ignore areas of pain, as these are the areas you should concentrate on. If the spot of pain is too uncomfortable, work around the area slowly until you can work into the center of the painful area.
- Start with 5 slow rolls for each muscle area, and increase to 10 rolls over a period of a few days.
How often should you foam roll?
Just like getting massaged regularly, regular foam rolling will slowly improve the consistency of your muscles.
- Foam rolling every day is ideal, and can help improve circulation
- Foam rolling daily – before and after your workout – is best
- Before your workout, foam rolling works as a warm up
- Always foam roll before stretching because this improves muscles ability to lengthen during stretching
- After your workout foam rolling aids recovery by helping to decrease lactic acid concentration in the muscles
- If you have any soreness after rolling, try alternating different muscles for different days, to match your exercise schedule
Is there anything you should do after foam rolling?
After rolling an area, activate the muscles of that area by doing gentle movements like:
– Ankle rolls after foam rolling the calves
– A few squats or pushups after rolling the quads (front of the thigh) or pec (chest) muscles
– Just like post-massage, drink plenty of water and get a full night sleep
– Rest 24 hours or more before working the same area again, until any soreness has gone away.
Where do you get a Foam Roll and which one should you buy?
Foam rolls can be bought at most athletics stores, and some home goods stores that have athletic sections.
There is some debate on the subject of which roll to use. Some (like InTouch) recommend starting with a less dense roll and progressing to a denser one. Others believe that using the most dense foam roll possible is best.
Ultimately it depends on you, so we recommend you start with the lowest density foam roll (white) and over time you can transition to medium density (blue) and then a harder roll (black) or a roll with ridges or bumps for deeper rolling.
Foam rolling is uncomfortable, and that’s okay because you control the pressure and pain yourself.
Just remember: Extreme pain is not the goal. More pain is not better.
Precautions and Contraindications:
- Anyone with osteoporosis or arthritis should always consult our doctors before starting foam rolling.
- Some areas are off-limits to rolling.
- Never roll over the bone or joint, always stay on muscle.
- The lower back is a dangerous area to roll and should only be attempted under the direct supervision of our doctors or therapists (if at all) to avoid damage to the low back.
- If you find you have to roll the same spot repeatedly in order to do your activities, without gradual improvement over time, there’s probably something else wrong. You should check with one of our doctors to investigate what other cause there could be for your pain.
Tips & Tricks:
- For neck pain, it helps to foam roll the chest or upper back – not as obvious as trying to roll the neck, but much more effective for neck pain.
- For knee pain, it helps to foam roll the side of the thigh (ITB) or glute muscles.
Exercise Video’s (Under Construction):
Half roll march
Full roll march
Full roll dead bug superman
Foam rolling as a recovery tool after an intense bout of physical activity. Macdonald GZ, Button DC, Drinkwater EJ, Behm DG: Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2014 Jan;46(1):131-42.
Foam Rolling for Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness and Recovery of Dynamic Performance Measures. Gregory E. P. Pearcey, MSc; David J. Bradbury-Squires, MSc; Jon-Erik Kawamoto, MSc; Eric J. Drinkwater, PhD; David G. Behm, PhD; Duane C. Button, PhD: Journal of Athletic Training 2015;50(1):5-13 doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-50.1.01 by the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, Inc www.natajournals.org
Integrated Training for the New Millennium. Clark,M: National Academy of Sports Medicine, Thousand Oaks, CA. 2000
Effects of Myofascial Release with Foam Rolling on Performance. Healey KC1, Hatfield DL, Blanpied P, Dorfman LR, Riebe D: J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Jan;28(1):61-8.
Is Self Myofascial Release an Effective Pre-Exercise and Recovery Strategy – Review. Schroeder AN1, Best TM.: Curr Sports Med Rep. 2015 May-Jun;14(3):200-8.
An Acute Bout of Self-Myofascial Release Increases Range of Motion Without Subsequent Decrease in Muscle Activation of Force. Graham Z. MacDonals, et. Al. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: March 2013 – Volume 27 – Issue 3 – p 812-821
Foam Rolling Decreases Muscle Soreness But has No Effect on Running Performance. Emma Lee, Erik Van Iterson, Sarah Baker, Natalie Taylor, Alexander Kasak, Erik Snyder: University of Minnesota, Mayo Clinic, University of Wisconsin.
Department of Exercise Physiology of Nippon Sports Science University in Tokyo, Japan. SMR w/foam roller reduces arterial stiffness and vascular endothelian function.
Acute effects of self-myofascial release using a foam roller on arterial function. Okamoto T1, Masuhara M, Ikuta K.: J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Jan;28(1):69-73.