The Foam Roller: Is it an effective recovery tool?

Foam Roller
Amelia Phillips

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Foam RollerUsed for ‘self myofascial release’ the foam roller can have you in tears but it promises to relieve DOMs (delayed onset muscle soreness) and any tight spots just like having a massage! Err well except it’s self-inflicted!

Self-myofascial release is a swanky name for massaging yourself to release knots or ‘trigger points‘ in your muscles. While this can be done with your hands, a foam roller is now a popular tool for everyone from  professional athletes to the everyday exercise enthusiast.

What’s going on first – why am I tight?

‘Fascia’ is tissue fibers beneath the skin that ‘stabilise, enclose and separate muscles from other internal organs’. The fascia that covers your muscles is called myofascia. When we workout or do an activity repetitively the fascia can become stiff, inflame and stressed causing trauma or a tear. These adhesions are the referred to as ‘trigger points’ and can prevent your muscles from working well. E.g. DOMS

Trigger Points:

Commonly known as a ‘knot’ where the muscle is tender and sore. The discomfort or pain from a trigger point is not necessarily where you feel the pain but often it’s a referred pain. Interestingly ‘referral patterns’ are well documented with 74% of trigger points not where you feel the ‘knot’. In any case they are quick to fatigue, limit your range of motion and are damn uncomfortable.

Common Trigger Points:

Quite commonly a runner’s best friend, the foam roller is particularly great for the ITB (Iliotibial band) as it works on the referral pattern from hip to ankle. Other trigger points will include your glutes, calves, hamstrings, quads, hip flexors and back.

Why use a Foam Roller?

The foam roller allows you to apply pressure to a trigger point and its surroundings, helping them to release and return to normal movement and performance. Like a massage it increases circulation allowing more oxygen to the spot and normal blood flow to restore healthy tissue and fibers. Applying pressure will also assist by softening and lengthening the fascia, breaking up the adhesions.

Is it Effective?

Research published in Journal of Strength & Condition Research did find the foam roller was an effective treatment method to increase range of motion ‘without suffering muscle performance’. Further Michael Clark Ph.D and CEO of National Academy of Sports Medicine says ‘rolling improves circulation, which gets the body for a workout and helps recover afterwards. While there is little other research on the effectiveness of foam rollers specifically, ask anyone who spends time on it, that it really hurts, but that the pain is worth it?!

How Often and other Tips:

To get relief you can use the foam roller on a particular trigger point up to 10 times a day, (who has time for that?) or at least until you get some relief. If the pain persists…well you know the rest!

Foam rolling is not just for pain relief; it should be used as a preventative method along with your normal stretching routine;

  • Do not roll over bones or joints;
  • If there is a particular painful spot keep pressure on that spot for up to 20secs;
  • Use a foam roller straight after a run as it encourages blood to return to its normal flow;
  • Rollers come in all shapes and sizes, some look scarier then others. Its about finding your personal preference;
  • It hurts! But on a scale from 1 to 10 – never go over a 7! If its too painful – move to the surrounding area;
  • Do the rolling on your bed for less intense pressure.

Watch this:

While you may have seen them lying around in the gym or for sale in every known sports store, check out this video on an effective way to use the foam roller.

You can purchase these cheaply anywhere from Kmart to Rebel, online at Amazon.com or here

Enjoy the pleasure and the pain of your foam roller!

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