Foam Rolling – The Ultimate Guide
Taking care of your aches, pains and mobility can all be done with foam rolling. Their use has increased in recent times with various types of foam rollers and mobility tools coming on to the market.
Foam rolling is the use of a roll shaped tool to compress and self-massage your bodies soft tissues. Its proven popular with everyone from professional athletes, hobbyist runners and gym goers. Their versatility means they can be used for warmups, cool downs, improving mobility and because they are light and portable can be taken with you to wherever you exercise.
Here is a run-down of the different products and their uses.
1. Foam Roller
Typically a plastic roll covered in hard/soft foam with different surface types which you use to roll on. There is a selection of surfaces from smooth to some which have more of n uneven surface. The reason for this to provide a different type of massage effect, a smooth one may be gentler like a Swedish massage, but others aim to give the replication of a deep tissue or more intense massage. The type of roller really depends upon your reason for using it.
2. Vibrating Roller
As above but with a battery and vibrating function to assist the foam rolling technique. The added vibration can give increased intensity to your foam roll and if you have a particularly sore area or stubborn tightness this can help to work in to it more effectively than a normal roller.
3. Mobility Tools
These are different shaped tools to target different body parts and areas with the focus on improving mobility and addressing localised pain. These tools are more specific to body area and the structures you want to address.
1. Foam Roller
2. Vibrating Roller
3. Mobility Tools
Why Should We Foam Roll?
Foam rolling can be performed for multiple reasons, two of the most common uses and indications for foam rolling are when you feel soreness and tightness in the muscles or when you are wanting to increase the range of motion in a joint by relaxing muscles so you can move further as well as the additional benefit of increasing the circulation to the area you are rolling.
When we apply pressure to muscles and fascia with a foam rolling tool it compresses the soft tissues and helps the muscles to relax. Typically when we feel sore and tight this can be caused by the fascia (connective tissue that sits around your muscle) becoming restricted – a great way to manage this to use a roller to help relax the facia and provide more movement in to the soft tissues. Rolling the soft tissues which sit around the joint can temporarily lengthen the muscle and allow a greater range of movement to aid in your warmup or cool down and recovery regime.
Another reason for muscle soreness can be DOMS which stands for delayed onset muscle soreness – typically felt following a hard workout/session the next day or 2 after. When we foam roll for pain reasons it may be feel a little uncomfortable to begin with but then this should ease as you continue and give some relief. This happens because it helps to switch off our pain sensors which relay the discomfort to our brain temporarily – this is particularly handy if you need to relieve muscle pains before you exercise as it may allow you to feel more comfortable and perform better.
Reducing injuries is another great reason to foam roll. If we have a particularly restricted area of the body which we don’t take care of – this can lead to poor engagement of the muscles in the area and can possibly lead to poor control, activation and ultimately, injury. For example – tightness of the quads can result in poor stability and control of the knee, if you start to engage in an exercise where you require the quads to stabilise the knee joint and they aren’t up to the job – you could suffer an injury to your ligaments, meniscus or tendons. Whilst a roller is great for prevention of injuries – if you are injured – a foam roller is a great tool with many uses for rehabilitation.
Following on from our desk workers blog the foam roller is effective for neck and upper back pain prevention and management. Flexed, hunched, slouched postures can be managed (first of all with better posture at work!) with the use of foam roller exercises to help us extend the thoracic and cervical spine and relieve pain we may have built up during a work day. If you can and are able to – keep a roller at the office and take care of yourself while you work! A great simple exercise is placing the roller on the floor and lying with it placed just underneath our shoulder blades – when we extend over this it helps to relieve tightness in the thoracic spine and muscles of the upper back whilst extending our neck.
When Should We Foam Roll?
The best answer to this question is anytime! As mentioned before, it depends on the aim and what you feel like as to why you would foam roll.
Prior to exercise is a great time – reducing pain, improving movement in order to improve your performance. Post session to promote better recovery by helping relax muscles following exercise and helping to reduce the effect of any potential DOMS or lactic acid build up.
Foam rolling and mobility tools can be used in the home as part of a regular mobility regime if you have a certain target or goal which you are aiming for. For example if you have tightness in your glutes or reduced hip range of motion which could be improved by foam rolling then working on this at home combined with mobility exercises could really help you achieve that goal.
As mentioned above – the workplace can be an unforgiving place – keep a roller handy at work to help prevent desk postures and work related upper back and neck pain! Your foam rolling technique should be performed with slow and controlled movements, and you should focus on each muscle or area for approximately 20-30 seconds. You can foam roll as often as you like, there is no recommended frequency – if it feels good and its benefiting you – do as much as you please.
Beginners Guide To Foam Rolling
Calf and Soleus
Foam rolling is a great addition to anyone’s routine, from the elite sports person to the desk worker. Use it to manage your aches, prevent injury, for warm up or cool downs and to build a regular routine to help achieve your mobility and maintenance goals.
All of our exercise prescription photos and videos in this blog came from our clinical software Rehab My Patient.