Foam-rolling – what is it and why is everyone doing it?
Colin Allan is a professional rugby-player-turned-PT and performance coach, with a specialist interest in hyper-tailored training and nutrition.
Are your muscles sore when they are massaged or when you press on them? And why does everyone seem to be rolling around on hollow tubes and lacrosse balls these days? Simply put, they are doing the latter to alleviate the former.
These sadistic looking tools are being used for ‘self myofascial release’. This is a fancy way of saying that the roller or ball allows you to give your muscles and connective tissue a good firm massage, but why do it?
From a performance perspective, it’s absolutely necessary because if not cared for correctly muscle tissue becomes sticky and tight. Continuing to exercise without foam rolling, massage or taking care of your soft tissue is only setting yourself up for poor movement quality, dysfunction and potential injuries. Adding 10-12mins of foam rolling or lacrosse ball work to each session is akin to 1hour of free massage a week, it’s a close as something for nothing as you’ll ever get.
Using a foam roller increase the blood flow, breaks up the stickiness and adhesions that have formed between the muscles and their surrounding tissues. helping restore the soft tissue to a healythy state. This loosening of muscle and fascia (connective tissue) enables joints to move more freely, improving movement quality and helps reduce the risk of injury.
The roller or ball can also release “trigger points” or “knots” in your muscles, firm lumps in the muscle tissue that can refer pain into other regions when pressure is applied.
Getting a massage can be both time-consuming and costly, myofascial release with a tool such as the foam-roller (or a trigger ball or spikey ball) allows you to take control of your recovery and mobility and stay on top of aches and pains. You can apply pressure to the exact spots that need it most and control the intensity and duration yourself..
When it comes to your feet, the action they see through marathon prep means you absolutely need to show them a little love. If you’re preparing for a marathon using a 16-week programme: throughout that program you average 33 miles, in each mile you take 1000 steps, you weigh 80kg and you run reasonably efficiently meaning the impact multiples the load by 2.4. That’s 101.4million newtons passing through your feet, calves and quads! Feet need love and affection too J
A really quick solution is to buy a tennis ball and press it under the sole of your foot for 20 strokes, then find any tender spots and hold it until the pain subsides. Use the ball on the flesh on the outside of your shin. Also important are your quads, back, around the hips and IT band.
If you are suffering from a particular injury or acute pain, it’s obviously wise to consult a physio before you commence using a foam roller to ensure it is appropriate. The physio will be able to teach you how to use the foam-roller effectively, and how to target different muscle groups. If you already have access to a foam-roller and need inspiration on how to use it, a quick Google or YouTube search will get you on the right track. You may also need to include appropriate strengthening exercises in your program, as your muscles tend to get tight when they are doing the job of other muscles that are working as effectively.
5 Take Home Points on Self Massage
* Try to include 10-12 mins of foam-rolling for every 50 mins of training or 3-5 times per week
* Don’t rush it, be mindful of how your muscles feel and what you are doing. Perform 3-5sets of 20-30 seconds
* Try before you buy – don’t buy the most medieval looking device immediately. It could be too aggressive for your pain
* Concentrate on you feet, legs and back
* Seek help for injuries & acute pain
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Halperin, I., Aboodarda, S. J., Button, D. C., Andersen, L. L., & Behm, D. G. (2014). Roller massager improves range of motion of plantar flexor muscles without subsequent decreases in force parameters. International journal of sports physical therapy, 9(1), 92.
Peacock, C.A., Krein, D.D., Silver, T.A., Sanders, G.J., von Carlowitz, K.P.A. (2014). An acute bout of self-myofascial release in the form of foam rolling improves performance testing. International Journal of Exercise Science, 7(3), pp.202-211.
Whilst Enertor has over 18 years Orthotics experience, our blog content is provided for informational purposes only and it is not a substitute for your own doctor’s medical advice. Enertor advises anyone with an injury to seek their own medical advice – and do not make any health or medical related decisions based solely on information found on this site
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