Foam Rollers.

Foam rollers became popular in the1980s by Broadway dancers as an affordable alternative to expensive massages.

Today, with the pressure created by your own body weight, foam rollers are used to release muscle knots and tightness in the back, hips, legs, arms, and other parts of the body prior to a workout to improve flexibility or after a workout to reduce muscle soreness and promote quicker recovery. Foam rollers can also be used to increase core stability and balance.

Why foam roll?

Foam rolling is a self myofascial release (SMF) technique used by fitness enthusiasts, athletes, and physical therapists to target tense and overworked muscles. It is similar to myofascial release, a common technique in massage, otherwise known as deep-tissue massage. Licensed Massage Therapists use their hands, elbows or other tools to press directly on a tight muscle until it releases its tension.  

According to Robbie Bolton, Physical Therapist at Traction Elite Physical Therapy in Baton Rouge, “As therapists, we treat connective tissue dysfunction with tool assisted methods, using our hands for active release, even using different forms of dry needling.  The foam roller is a great adjunct to treatment for active individuals to use pre and post activity”.

What exactly is myofascia?

Myofascia is the band of connective tissue covering, supporting, and connecting muscles and internal organs (“myo” meaning muscle and “fascia” fibrous connective tissue). Many think of fascia as one continuous body stocking that runs from the top of your head to your toes and lies just underneath the skin. It has no beginning or end. Fascia is also sometimes described as yarn in a sweater that is one continuous weave. And like in a tightly knit sweater, if you tug on one end of the sweater, you see the tug travel the long distance to other ends of the sweater.  

In a normal healthy state, fascia is relaxed and helps to maintain posture, range of motion and flexibility, which gives us tremendous strength and can help prevent injuries.  However, when fascia is damaged or traumatized it can become too tight and cause a number of problems such as headaches, muscle spasms, chronic back and neck pain, poor posture, and reduced flexibility and mobility.  

When to foam roll?

According to Strength and Conditioning Research columnist, Chris Beardsley, in his article Foam Rolling and Self-Myofascial Release, research has shown that static stretching can reduce strength prior to a workout or athletic performance. He continued stating that “foam rolling can be used immediately before exercise to increase flexibility, particularly as there seems to be no adverse effect on athletic performance.  Regular use may also improve flexibility long-term.  Foam rolling can also be used in the short-term after exercise to reduce the sensation of muscle soreness”.

Types of rollers.

The construction of the foam roller determines the cost.  Foam rollers differ in size, shape, foam type, and cost.  Most foam rollers are color coded according to firmness. White rollers are the softest, followed by blue or green rollers of medium density, and black foam rollers, which are the firmest. The firmer the foam, the more intense the pressure.

The smaller 12’ foam rollers fit easily in to gym bags as well as fitness balls and rollers sticks. All of which can easily be found at any sports store or purchased on-line.

Other ways to use your foam rollers.

Foam rollers don’t have to be used just for active release, but can also be used during stability and core exercises exercises such as planks and push ups, or balance work during lunges, and is a perfect prop for stretching. 

So if you’re looking for a new workout gadget to keep yourself moving freely, decrease bound muscles, and lower your risk of injury, foam rolling could be a great place to start to keep your “sweater” free from knots.

Author: Sherry Mockler
Adult Performance Director
Traction Sports Performance