How to Use a Foam RollerLooking for a way to loosen, massage, elongate, and maintain problematic muscle tissue areas? You may want to invest in a foam roller. With a technique that closely imitates massage therapy, a foam roller can substantially benefit your muscle health and performance. And it isn’t a pain to haul around. Designed as a cylindrical foam tool, it is light and portable enough to take on your next exercise excursion.

Alleviating Tension and Elongating Musculature
Muscles that are subjected to frequent bouts of strenuous activity may develop trigger points, or areas of muscle knotting and tautness. These inflexible sites can cause localized pain in a specific anatomical area, or generalized pain throughout an anatomical region. But irritation and muscle discomfort are not the only problems trigger points can cause. Muscle movement is also inhibited, limiting one’s range of motion and ability to move freely. Muscles that are particularly susceptible in the lower body include the Gastrocnemius and Quadriceps muscles.

In looking at the physiology of trigger points, it makes sense that the gentle pressure of a foam roller will loosen the surrounding tissue, increase circulation and blood flow, lessen pain, and relax the problem area. For instance, applying light, pulsing stress to the medial portion of the Gastrocnemius will release some of the pressure and tightness in the trigger point, allowing slackening in the muscle and increased mobility.

Purposes of Foam-Rolling

  • Lessened pain: Foam rolling applies direct pressure to muscle adhesions, allowing them to loosen, heal, and ultimately decrease the amount of tenderness and irritability experienced.
  • Increased circulation: Foam rolling can augment circulation to your muscles, increasing the amount of nutrients and oxygen they receive.
  • Speeded recovery: Muscle scarring is the result of recurring muscle tears, and left alone can eventually lead to injury. In a fashion similar to a massage, foam rolling can break down the scar tissue, bringing healing and growth to muscle tissue.
  • Improved flexibility: Rigid muscles are loosened by this simple technique, bolstering range of motion and muscle maneuverability.

Suggested Methods for Use

  • Self-massage: As its name makes clear, rolling the roller is a popular and effective technique. Moving it back and forth while simultaneously applying pressure to an isolated area is the equivalent of a tissue massage. The rhythmic movement adds to muscle relaxation, and gives the entire body a general feeling of comfort. Lengthier muscle groups in the lower body lend themselves well to this method.  
  • Bodyweight: One’s bodyweight can be used to massage posterior regions that would be difficult to self-massage otherwise. For example, it’s common practice to rest one’s leg on top of a foam roller, using the arms to stabilize the body, while simultaneously rolling back and forth on the roller.  Using bodyweight also allows the application of increased pressure to a tense area.  
  • Pre and post-workout: Using a roller prior to a fitness session can increase the readiness of your muscles, warming and preparing them for the workout. As a post-workout technique, foam rolling can improve nutrient flow to deprived muscle tissue.
  • Consistent and abbreviated use: Adding foam rolling as a component of your daily routine will allow you to realize the results outlined above. Focus on isolating problematic areas on a daily basis, making this practice a consistent part of your exercise session.

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Sources: “Roller-Massage Increases Hamstring Range of Motion,” found on PubMed; “Acute Effects of Self-Myofascial Release Using a Foam Roller on Arterial Function,” found on Pubmed; “An Acute Bout of Self-Myofascial Release Increases Range of Motion Without a Subsequent Decrease in Muscle Activation or Force,” found in The Journal on Strength and Conditioning Research.

Originally posted 2013-09-04 11:49:01.


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