Foam rolling is a technique to relieve myofascial pain, but what exactly is it? How do you do it, and how does it help your body? Read on to learn how foam rolling can help you avoid injury and feel better.
Myofascial pain is a fancy way to describe muscle pain. The body’s soft connective tissue that covers, supports, and protects the muscles is the fascia. Think of it as your body’s “soft tissue architecture." Fibers in the fascia can tighten and become inflamed and sensitive from overuse or injury. These sensitive areas are called trigger points and can cause strain and pain throughout the muscle. When this pain persists and worsens, doctors call it myofascial pain syndrome.
Foam rolling is almost like giving yourself a deep tissue massage using a cylindrical exercise device. Foam rolling falls into the category of myofascial release, a technique that applies gentle, sustained pressure to the connective tissue to eliminate pain and restore motion.
Foam rolling is one way to break up the fascia and relieve tension. It helps work the knots out of your muscles by applying pressure to specific points on your body. It helps muscles recover and return to normal function – elastic, healthy, and ready to perform. If your muscles are tense and painful, you may notice a difference after using a foam roller.
There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that foam rolling really works, and science is starting to back up these claims. A recent study found that foam rolling the quadriceps (and, theoretically, any other muscle) can help improve joint range of motion and muscle recovery.
This foam rolling guide from Greatist includes diagrams to get you started.
Place the hard foam roller under your tight, sore muscles. Find a “trigger point” – those hard spots or “knots” – in your muscles. Use your body weight against the roller to apply and maintain pressure on that spot for 30 seconds, 60 seconds, or longer
Foam rolling can be painful. If you’re new to this recovery technique, go easy at first to assess your tolerance. You don’t have to put your full weight on the spot to benefit.
The pain should be uncomfortable without being unbearable. And when you’re done, the spot should feel better.
Foam rollers are just one self-myofascial release tool. Some people prefer lacrosse balls and other harder materials like PVC piping. Most gyms have foam rollers you can try.