Exercise, activity, movement, overuse or even a simple step up on the curb can lead to muscle tightness or injury. While there are many ways to attack troublesome areas, one in particular is worth learning and doing: the foam roller.
One of the greatest ways to help a tight muscle or muscle area is direct pressure. A well trained massage therapist or physical therapist can do this for you but that isn’t always necessary. The foam roller is your at home or at gym option as it can provide the direct pressure your muscles need. Trouble spots usually start as “micro-tears,” tiny tears in your muscle fibers that are a result from use. These tears can develop into knots or tight areas that prevent your from moving with ease and can eventually lead to injury.
Enter foam roller! What this direct pressure provides is something called the myofascial release. As described the M-F Athletic Company in Rhode Island, the pressure of the foam roller (mimicking myofacial release) stimulates tension and an increase in the rate of tension in your muscle. The response enables the muscle spindles to relax. Your body weight on the foam roller provides this direct pressure and then muscle relaxation. Consider it a deep stretch combined with a deep massage all in one! The purpose of myofascial release is to break down soft tissue or scar tissue that is “stuck together,” thereby increasing the muscle flexibility.
Here is the suggested foam rolling technique:
1. Roll back and forth on the area you would like to work on for about 45-60 seconds.
2. Find a tender spot and keep the roller on that spot. Wait for the discomfort to reduce slightly. This could take some time.
3. Roll the tender spot two to three times a day until there is no longer sensitivity.
4. When the tender area is free of discomfort, continue rolling the entire area regularly to maintain relaxation.
Use the foam roller as a warm up prior to activity and also for a warm down after a workout. Foam rolling may require some experimentation on your part to see what “feels” the best. You may need to manipulate the roller to find a correct position and you will be able to create your own variations. Always remember to drink fluids throughout the day, especially after foam rolling. Your muscles respond best when they are properly hydrated.
Here are two videos that demonstrate muscle groups to focus on when foam rolling and proper technique: