To Roll or Not to Roll by Wendie Marlais


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To Roll or Not to Roll?

By Wendie Marlais

If you go to a gym it is very likely you will see someone on a mat in the corner, rolling out their iliotibial band with a grimace of pain on their face.

“Is it OK to use a foam roller to loosen up muscles and fascia when it hurts so bad when you do it?” This question is quite popular so I decided to get to the bottom of it.

Foam rolling is a self-myofascial release (SMR) technique that has been used by athletes and physical therapists to inhibit overactive muscles and massage tight spots. The foam roller not only stretches muscles and tendons but it also breaks down soft tissue adhesions and scar tissue. By using your own body weight and a cylindrical foam roller you can perform a self-massage or myofascial release, break up trigger points, and soothe tight fascia while increasing blood flow and circulation to the soft tissues. The equipment that is used for foam rolling usually consists of a foam cylinder of various sizes; commonly 12 inches long, 6 inches in diameter. A variety of roller densities exist often denoted by the color of the roller. For instance, a basic white foam roller is generally the softest - however it has not proven to hold its shape if it is used frequently. I discovered the GRID massage roller (made by TriggerPoint which has 3 zones that provide different intensities of massage; uses less foam than many other styles of rollers; and it is designed to withstand repeated use without breaking down.

More on Rolling…

SMR can have a wide range of benefits for the everyday gym-goer. Some of the basic, most obvious benefits will be increased blood flow throughout the body, better movement and increased range of motion. These benefits can decrease the chance of injury and decrease recovery time after a workout.

Using a foam roller is simple, but working some areas may take a bit of practice. Your body weight creates the pressure that massages and releases tight spots in the fascia. You control the pressure by applying more or less body weight on the foam roller and using your hands and feet to offset your weight as needed. Foam rollers can also be used for balance and core strengthening.

Tips for Using a Foam Roller

Always check with your doctor before using a foam roller for myofascial release.

· Perform foam roller sessions when your muscles are warm or after a workout.

· Position the roller under the soft tissue area you want to release or loosen.

· Gently roll your body weight back and forth across the roller while targeting the affected muscle.

· Move slowly and work from the center of the body out toward your extremities.

· If you find a particularly painful area (trigger point), hold that position until the area softens.

· Focus on areas that are tight or have reduced range of motion.

· Roll over each area a few times until you feel it relax. Expect some discomfort. It may feel very tender or bruised at first. If the pain is really bad, lighten up on the pressure.

· Stay on soft tissue and avoid rolling directly over bone or joints.

· Keep your first few foam roller sessions short.

· Rest a day between sessions when you start.

· Drink plenty of water after a session, just as you would after a sports massage.

· Do not use a foam roller without your physician's approval if your have any heart or vascular illness or a chronic pain condition.

There are many good exercises available using a foam roller. Listed below are a couple sites to get you started: