Foam rollers are cylinders of varying lengths and density, and have ridged or textured surfaces.
Foam rolling, or self-myofascial release, are terms for self-massage that uses your own body weight to apply pressure to specific parts of the body. The benefit of using a foam roller is that you can determine for yourself how much pressure to apply. It is recommended that you check with your medical practitioner or physical therapist first, to make sure there are no reasons to stop you using one.
The fascia is a connective tissue, rich in sensory receptor cells, that surrounds every muscle (as well as every nerve, bone, blood vessel, and organ) like a continuous web. It has a role as a structural support for function and movement. Damage to the fascia can lead to the formation of trigger points, or Ďknotsí that are painful when compressed or stretched and can cause referred pain elsewhere in the body.
Referred pain is the term to describe what happens when pressure is applied in one spot, and pain is felt radiating to another spot, i.e., when rolling the iliotibial (IT) band, which lies along the outer side of the thigh, pain can be felt going up to the hip or down to the ankle.
The IT band is not muscle but connective tissue, and cannot be manipulated by foam rolling. Instead, roll the muscles that attach to the IT band: the gluteus maximus (the big muscle in the buttock) and the tensor fasciae latae (the muscle that runs along the outer edge of the hip).
Another reason not to roll the IT is the danger of rolling over the bursa sac on the bony protuberance on the outside of the hip (greater trochanter). A constantly irritated bursa can lead to many complications.
Self-myofascial massage, or foam rolling, applies pressure to specific parts of the body to aid the recovery of muscles. It is thought that it works by breaking down adhesions and scar tissue to promote better blood flow, thereby increasing the efficiency of nutrient and waste exchange at the cellular level. This results in better cellular function, which leads to faster healing.
It can be uncomfortable in the same way a deep tissue massage can be uncomfortable, but it should be bearable. If you are new to this technique, start with a softer roller. Apply moderate pressure to a specific muscle or muscle group by using your body weight on the roller.
It is important to avoid rolling on a joint, tendon, or bone. Never roll your lower back as the spinal muscles will contract to protect the spine. Instead, roll your upper back where the shoulder blades and shoulder muscles protect the spine. Donít go below the rib cage. And donít roll on a torn muscle because you will only aggravate the injury.
Itís recommended to start indirectly, rather than directly on a sensitive area. Work a few inches away from that spot. When you hit a tight or sore spot, pause and try to relax. Within five to thirty seconds the pain should ease. Gradually move inwards.
Roll slowly, no more one inch per second. It isnít necessary to work over an entire muscle if only a few places are sore. Use short, slow rolls over the sore spots, and spend not more than twenty seconds on each sore place. Too much time and too much pressure increase the likelihood of hitting a nerve or causing damage to the tissue.
Keep doing it to reap the full benefits.