By Kyle Stull

Foam rolling is referred to as self-myofascial release, and some call it the “poor man’s massage.” The benefits of foam rolling are actually quite valuable, however, so it’s worth far more than it costs. Myofascial release is a hands-on technique that therapists have been using for years by applying a low load, long duration force, across layers of soft-tissue. The therapist holds pressure, and through different mechanisms in the body, the tissue will “release”, which restores mobility between those sliding surfaces. It is difficult for most people to reproduce these results, but proper use of a foam roller is a great place to start.  While the foam roller will never completely replace therapists, it serves as a viable alternative and is something that can be utilized daily.

Hundreds of research papers have been published on foam rolling over the past five years, suggesting that foam rolling can help to reduce pain, increase flexibility, and reduce muscle soreness, while speeding up recovery. Many of these benefits come from reducing tension in tight muscles, “breaking up” little fibers that form between the muscles and the fascia. In addition, the compression and movement of the foam rolling rehydrates connective tissues, aiding in flexibility and overall movement.

Most people can benefit greatly from foam rolling and experience no contraindications, however, as with anything else, there are certain reasons why certain individuals should express caution. Those with conditions, such as osteoporosis, varicose veins and pregnancy, all fall into the category of people who should proceed cautiously. If you have these conditions, it doesn’t mean you are excluded from foam rolling altogether, but it would be advised that you speak with your physician first. Some adjustments or adaptations may need to be made to accommodate you. Many people who are active, like runners, cyclists, and CrossFit athletes, for example, really value foam rolling, as it helps them move more easily and recover more quickly. Frequent use of a foam roller has proven quite beneficial for the office worker, as well, who is stuck at a desk for multiple hours each day. This practice, after a long day seated at a desk, can help to relieve and lengthen tight muscles in the chest, shoulders, and hips.

Focusing on specific principles when rolling, will allow you to experience greater benefits. First, always roll slowly. Remember, foam rolling originated from the art and practice of massage, and some of the most effective massages are slow, controlled and focused. Trigger Point encourages people to roll about an inch per second through muscle groups. If you find any tender spots while rolling, rating it about a 6-8 on a scale of 1-10, then stop and hold direct pressure on that spot. During this time, make sure you breathe deeply and relax. Experiencing some discomfort from tight and dysfunctional muscle groups is normal, but if it ever becomes too painful, simply reduce pressure on the roller. The last principal to remember involves adding other movements in addition to just rolling up and down. Rolling up and down increases blood flow, bringing in fresh blood and oxygen to those areas of the body. However, connective tissue and fascia run in various directions, so including some side-to-side motions or pin-and-stretch movements will be key in effectively reaching those areas.

Foam rolling can feel fantastic, and many people experience immediate benefits. There a few things I want to share with you, however, to ensure you get the most out of foam rolling. First, make sure you are hydrated, keeping in mind that adequate hydration begins the previous day. The muscles and all other connective tissues rely on water to help them move easily and slide across each other more smoothly. Therefore, if you are dehydrated, the positive changes you experience may not last very long. Next, make sure you roll regularly. You may feel some changes take place immediately, but for lasting results, the body needs consistent stimulus over time. Rolling every day is a great habit to adopt, but at the very minimum, at least 3-4 days per week is the goal. To gain the most benefit out of your rolling, I would also advise you to roll out the muscles that are causing the problems. Much of the time, these are not the areas that hurt the most, but are rather the muscle(s) either below or above those tender spots.

Foam rolling is a great compliment to any workout regime and recovery day. Teach clients the basics of foam rolling to insure they are getting the most benefit, preventing possible injury and stretching the muscle groups, fascia and other connective tissues. This will aid in keeping the client moving forward toward their optimal health and fitness goals.

Kyle StullKyle Stull is the Direct of Research and Education for Implus and Senior Master Trainer for TriggerPoint. Kyle collaborates with universities and industry professionals conducting research that provides evidence-based support for educational material that is used for both marketing and instructional purposes. Kyle has achieved his Doctorate in Health Sciences, MS in Rehabilitation, and BS in Sport Management. He is an LMT, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, and maintains multiple certifications with NASM with more than 12 years of experience in personal training, corrective exercise, and manual therapy.