By Dr Andrew Ullo (Chiropractor)
Foam rolling is like a deep tissue massage that you give to your own muscles. It’s a type of soft-tissue therapy that focuses on connective tissue called fascia. Fascia is tissue that connects with your muscles, bones, and ligaments to provide support throughout your entire body.
When fascia works properly, it is elastic and can stretch and move as one with the rest of your body. Yet, due to tough training, poor posture, stress, and lifestyle factors, our fascia can tighten and become stiff, restricting movement and even causing pain.
Unfortunately, static stretching on its own doesn’t quite cut it. However, direct pressure from a massage therapist, a foam roller, or even a lacrosse ball, is needed to release those tight muscles and fascia.
Benefits of Foam Rolling
- Improves Range of Motion & Performance
Exercise, injury, and lifestyle can cause your fascia to tighten and cause trigger points, or “knots”. These knots are what restrict both mobility and performance. Foam rolling can break up those knots and return muscles and soft tissue back to normal, increasing range of motion. With an increased range of motion, you can perform better in your workouts by engaging muscles fully to increase strength and power.
- Relieves Muscle Soreness and Aids in Recovery
Fascia provide your muscles with support and protection. Overuse, injury, and even inactivity can cause fascia to tighten, causing inflammation and irritation. Foam rolling breaks up those knots which can actually help increase circulation to your muscles and connective tissues. With better circulation and more oxygen, your muscles can recover faster and you’ll experience less muscle soreness.
- Relaxes Muscles
Just with deep tissue massage, foam rolling applies direct pressure on tight muscles and knots which helps them relax and release tension. “Rolling” over your muscles and trigger points creates a similar effect that a massage therapist uses when kneading your muscles.
- Lengthens Muscles & Prevents Injury
Just as it increases range of motion, foam rolling allows you to stretch your muscles more efficiently as well. Foam rolling lengthens muscles and breaks down scar tissues that can prevent you from reaching your deepest stretch. It allows muscles to return to their normal length, which in turn allows for proper muscle function. When your muscles are efficiently stretched and function properly there is far less risk of injury.
- Correct Muscle Imbalances
Because foam rolling can relax tight muscles, improve range of motion, and lengthen muscles, it allows your body to perform better. It helps correct muscle imbalances by relaxing the overactive, tight muscles, and allowing for proper movement to strengthen the weak, underactive muscles.
- Can Boost your Immune System
A healthy myofascial system directly correlates with a healthy immune system. Your lymphatic system detoxifies your system and keeps it healthy. Lymph, or lymphatic fluid, runs along the facial plane of your body. When the fascia in your body are tight, it restricts the movement of lymph. Foam rolling will release tight fascia, allowing for proper detoxification and immune function.
Fair Warning: Foam Rolling Won’t Feel That Great…
For some, foam rolling seems as if it can’t possibly help if it is so painful while actually doing it. But again, think of it as a deep tissue massage. Most people understand and know that deep tissue massage can be uncomfortable and even painful. Foam rollers are really just a tool used as a substitute for the hands, elbows and forearms of the massage therapist.
Tips for Foam Rolling
- Roll each muscle group for 1-2 minutes and roll very SLOWLY. When you hit a tight spot that is painful or uncomfortable, HOLD on that spot for 30-45 seconds. You should feel the tension release slowly.
- Make sure to keep breathing, even when it’s painful. Holding your breath won’t allow the muscles to release and relax.
- Be sure to RELAX the muscle as best you can. If you are flexing or tensing the muscle group you are trying to roll out, you won’t feel the trigger points you need to release.
- Drink plenty of water for the next 24 hours. Your body needs to rid itself of the lactic acid released after rolling.
- The next day your muscles may be a bit sore. That’s normal, they should feel slightly fatigued and possibly a tiny bit tender. Wait 24-48 hours to foam roll again if you’re sore.
- DO NOT roll on a joint or bone
- If an area is too painful to apply direct pressure, shift the roller and apply pressure on the surrounding area and gradually work to loosen the entire area.