Here is an increasingly common pattern: A new client informs me that s/he has a knee or back or hip or whatever joint problem. This is almost always followed with the news that the doctor suggested rest, caution and perhaps even pain medication. So I’m told we’ll just have to work around this unfixable issue.
Me: “Have you ever used a foam roller?”
Client: “A what?”
A foam roller is a cylinder made of hard foam, usually 36 inches long and 6 inches in diameter and—quite simply—I have yet to meet a client that it hasn’t helped. In fact, I have yet to have a client who hasn’t purchased a roller for home use within one week of trying it.
“The foam roller not only stretches muscles and tendons, but it also breaks down soft tissue adhesions and scar tissue,” says exercise physiologist and fitness consultant, Elizabeth Quinn. “By using your own bodyweight and a cylindrical foam roller you can perform a self-massage or myofascial release, break up trigger points and soothe tight fascia while increasing blood flow and circulation to the soft tissues.”
The soft connective tissue located just below the skin is called “superficial fascia” and it serves to connect the body’s muscles, bones, nerves and blood vessels.
“Together, muscle and fascia make up what is called the myofascial system,” says Quinn. “For various reasons including disuse, not enough stretching, or injuries, the fascia and the underlying muscle tissue can become stuck together. This is called an adhesion and it results in restricted muscle movement. It also causes pain, soreness and reduced flexibility or range of motion.”
Myofascial release requires gentle and sustained pressure on the soft tissues and traction to the fascia. This is where the foam roller comes in. By lying atop the roller, you can create a smooth back and forth rolling motion across your muscles—focusing extra attention and time over any knots or trigger points you encounter.
In addition to providing pain relief and a sense of length, the literal act of foam rolling often helps one’s balance and symmetry. Perhaps most essentially, regular foam rolling improves body awareness. By this, I mean that individuals come to sense what feels natural to them in terms of posture, alignment and movement—thus decreasing the chance of injury while increasing quality of life.
Of course, I encourage those new to foam rolling to activate the Google function on their computer to learn more before trying it out. Better yet, talk with a certified fitness professional at your gym to get rolling as soon as possible.
Final note: The advice presented above is not meant for anyone with contraindicated health problems. Please consult a medical or fitness professional.