Foam rollers have grown in popularity over the past few years, seen in physiotherapy clinics, gyms and private homes. Rightly so, as foam rolling is an effective way to self massage. The benefits of foam rolling are: increased short term flexibility without hindrance to athletic performance (unlike static stretching), increased long term flexibility (when combined with passive static stretching), and reduction in perceived muscle soreness post workout.
Foam rolling improves blood flow to the area and helps get rid of adhesions in your muscles and connective tissue, thereby prepping the muscles for activity. The literature has revealed to us that static stretching is not beneficial and can be harmful pre-activity but foam rolling is a more dynamic type of myofascial release so can be used before (warm-up) and after activity (cool down), decreasing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
Rollers come in all different sizes, shapes and densities to address all body types so there’s something for everyone. There are even handy compact ones to take with you such as the Travel Roller (sold to patients at Empower Physiotherapy).
Also of benefit is using a lacrosse ball to self-release. Similar function as foam rollers, but the ball can get into those smaller, shorter, deeper muscles that are more difficult to reach with a bulkier foam roller. For example, muscles such as Piriformis, Pectoralis Minor and Levator Scapulae benefit from release with a lacrosse ball.
As a general rule, the discomfort you have during foam or ball rolling should be relieved once you stop the technique. The goal is to be left feeling more flexible and less sore than before you started.
Here are some tips to proper rolling:
- Roll slowly. Breathe and allow your muscle to relax as you roll.
- Release surrounding tissue first. Work slowly toward an area of pain by using small “kneading” movements through the length of the muscle.
- Avoid overkill on one knot. You can cause injury to the muscle or nerve with prolonged pressure on one spot.
- Use correct posture and body alignment. Support your body weight with your arms and use your core to support yourself.
- Don’t roll over bony prominences. This can cause bruising or irritate bursae.
Taking care of your body is key to living an active, balanced lifestyle. Here’s hoping you “get on a roll and have a ball” with it!