Maybe you’ve seen it on Instagram, or on TV, or even at the gym. Somebody’s on the ground, rolling their hips or thighs or arms across a big foam cylinder. What’s that all about? Is it a fad, or is it functional? Should I be doing it, too?
What is foam rolling?
Foam rolling is the easier-to-pronounce name for “self-myofascial release”. The prefix “myo” refers to your muscles, and “fascial” refers to the fascia, or bands of connective tissue that surround your muscles. So, foam rolling works on the muscles and their surrounding fascia. By rolling, you release muscle tightness and trigger points/knots in the body. This can help to improve flexibility, correct alignment issues, and encourage proper movement form.
How does it work?
Foam rolling uses the same principles as deep-tissue massage. By applying pressure in a bearably-painful way on various points in the body, you can break up tension, allowing normal blood flow to return to the area.
When we experience muscle tightness, our bodies learn to compensate. We consciously or unconsciously adjust our alignment to make up for any pain or tension we may be feeling. This not only exacerbates the tightness, but can set us up for more severe injuries down the line. Foam rolling can help keep our muscles supple, allowing us to work at our peak performance.
Does it hurt?
Short answer: yes. But it’s a temporary pain that allows you more prolonged pain-free movement, so most people agree it’s a good trade off. You should be feeling an uncomfortable, not unbearable pain when you’re rolling your muscles. Sometimes, you’ll discover that your ankle or knee pain is actually caused by a trigger point somewhere else in your body. By rolling the trigger point, you can help relieve the referred (or radiated) pain. If the pain you’re feeling while rolling is extreme, though, it’s more likely an injury, and you should get it checked out by a professional.
What do I need to get started?
You can buy all kinds of rollers online or in stores. Some are basic rolls of foam, resembling an oversized pool noodle. Others are a little more complicated (read: painful), made of a harder plastic, with strategic bumps to work on your knots. You can also use simpler items: a wood dowel, a lacrosse ball, or even a tennis ball. Balls are great for accessing hard-to-reach shoulder knots, and targeted spots of tension.
You can find lots of great foam roller exercises on YouTube, or you can always ask me for specific roller exercises to help improve your personal performance. Sign up now for a FREE session, and we can get started! A little pain now to prevent a lot of pain later – foam rolling is definitely worth the pain.