Self-myofascial massage, or foam rolling, has become a common form of at-home therapy prescribed to patients with any muscular or soft tissue problem. The traditional theory is that foam rolling helps to break up knots in muscles, decrease inflammation and increase flexibility by applying pressure to trigger points. Others have suggested that it helps to decrease pain by stimulating pressure receptors called Pascinian corpuscles. These receptors send messages to nerves to stop sending pain signals to the brain. Several studies have also shown increases in flexibility and elasticity in muscles following foam rolling. The problem is that most of these studies are very small and do not show consistent results. Regardless of the true mechanism behind it and a lack of reproducible research to date, it seems as though foam rolling typically makes people feel better. As a result, foam rolling can still have value for someone who has pain or dysfunction with muscles or soft tissues.
What do you do & how should it feel?
There are multiple ways that a foam roller can be used. The most common method is to lie on it and roll a particular muscle or structure over the roller, as the name implies. You can use it over very small areas to concentrate on specific knots, or you can roll over greater areas to affect large parts of a muscle. It’s okay to feel some discomfort or pressure while rolling, similar to a deep massage or if you press on a knot with your fingers. If you feel a significant amount of pain, try to distribute less weight on the roller. If that still doesn’t help, stop rolling.
Another way the foam roller can be used is for static stretching. This involves holding a single position to help stretch tissues, as opposed to rolling back and forth. The foam roller can be used to increase the amount of stretch possible, especially for areas such as the pecs and other muscles on the front of the shoulder.
A foam roller can be used for countless areas in the body. Below are just a few examples of certain spots that it can be particularly beneficial for many people. There are numerous ways that they can be used and this is just a starting point.
1. Thoracic Spine: This move helps to mobilize the joints and soft tissues of the midback, which often become tight with poor posture and prolonged sitting.
2. IT Band/Outside part of quad muscles: This movement helps to free up the outside part of the thigh, which often affects runners and endurance athletes.
3. Quadriceps: This procedure frees up the quad muscles, which are on the front of the thigh and can become very tight.
4. Latissimus Dorsi: This maneuvour helps to release the lat muscle, which can contribute to shoulder or upper back dysfunction.
Static Chest Stretch: This helps to loosen up the tissue on the front of the chest and shoulders that can become tight from sitting or poor posture.
The Final Word
Despite a lack of concrete research, a foam roller can be a useful tool to help stretch out areas and loosen up tight structures. Even though foam rolling is considered a very safe treatment technique, it's still best to get assessed by a qualified professional. This will help ensure that foam rolling is the right treatment protocol for you and that you are using proper form.