As always, if you are unsure of your foam rolling methods, we are here to help! Click here to book an appointment with one of Vancouver's finest physiotherapists - James Rowan, Damien Wild, or Jim Bowie.
While foam rolling will likely be uncomfortable, if you are experiencing pain it may be that you are pressing too hard or in the wrong location. If the pain initially is referred to other areas but subsequently subsides, this is a great spot. If the pain refers elsewhere and doesn't dissipate (or if it intensifies), try first reducing your pressure, If that doesn't change things, pay a visit to your physiotherapist.
Foam rolling for too long can actually cause increased inflammation in the muscle tissue, which again causes more harm than help. Each trigger point should be held (no rolling motion) for 30-90 seconds. After this is done, several large slow rolls over the length of the entire muscle is preferred.
Taking deep, regular breaths while rolling out helps oxygenate the muscles, and relaxes the body to allow for greater relaxation of the muscle.
Avoid bony bits! Foam rolling is intended to be used on soft tissues, and most effectively targets soft connective tissues and fascia. Rolling over bones like the knee, elbow, or ankle will likely result in bruising and soreness, without any benefit. Having said that, for most people one of the best foam rolling exercises is performed by rolling over top of the mid-back.
Knowledge and awareness of your muscular system is always beneficial when rolling out tight areas. In many cases, the origin of the pain we experience can be in a completely different area than the actual problem spot! For example, an individual with a tight IT band may find better improvement from rolling out the primary muscles that attach to it instead - namely, the gluteus maximus (your buttocks), vastus lateralis (outside quadraceps) and the tensor fasciae latae (the outer edge of your hip). This is because the IT band is extremely strong, and simply cannot be released from foam rolling manipulations. In fact, repeatedly rolling out the IT band could cause more damage, as it is increasing inflammation in the area. If you are ever unsure of where you should be foam rolling for the greatest effectiveness, our physiotherapists are happy to help answer your questions and put together a foam rolling plan for you.
You may be scratching your head at this one, as we just earlier mentioned that foam rolling for too long is a bad thing. While that is correct, it is also not beneficial to speedily roll out tight areas. Your muscles need time to relax, and doing less repetitions at a slower, more focused rate will lead to happier, healthier muscles in the long run. Studies recommend using a slow, kneading method directed away from the area of pain. You should always try to first release the trigger points of the muscle with a technique where you pause in the muscle before rolling the muscle out.
As with any exercise, form and posture play an important roll in the effectiveness of your foam rolling practice. When properly done, you may find yourself working up a sweat while rolling out those sore muscles! For example, when rolling out the quadriceps, it is common to assume a plank position with the foam roller under the legs. It is important when doing this to hold the abs and back strong, to avoid causing any tightness or damage to these areas as well.
Attempting to foam roll the low back will result in the surrounding muscles tightening to protect the spine, which means tightness, spasms, and pain for you. Instead, it is important to find the cause of the low back pain; surrounding muscles like the piriformis (deep within your buttocks), rectus femoris (within the quads), or the hip flexors (front of your hips) all commonly contribute to low back tightness, and these groups can be safely rolled out. If low back pain persists, you may find it effective to stretch in child's pose, or see one of our physiotherapists to target the root of your injury.
Happy foam rolling!