The foam roller has been touted by runners as both friend and foe. And they seem harmless enough. Some of them resemble a short, fat swimming pool noodle, while others look a bit more ominous.
But what does it do? When and how should it be used?
Self Myofascial Release
Myofascia is the soft tissue that covers muscles. When the soft tissue is stressed by overuse or injury, it can tear or adhere to itself, which of course prevents the muscle from working at its best. Think of it as a rope that gradually develops a knot. Using the foam roller on a regular basis helps to “loosen those knots” by keeping the myofascia loose, which helps maintain or improve muscle function. This is called self myofascial release. It works kind of like a deep tissue massage that is achieved by rolling an area of your body on the foam roller.
That explains why you should use a foam roller. But when and how?
Britny Fowler, a personal trainer and instructor for Trigger Point Therapy Products, recently appeared on the Another Mother Runner Podcast and explained the ABC’s of foam rolling.
A. Always Start From The Ground Up.
She explained the joint by joint theory of biomechanics; the body is seen as a stack of joints with alternating functions of mobility and stability. The ankle is a mobile joint, the knee is a stable joint, the hips are mobile, the lumbar spine is stable, the thoracic area is mobile, lower cervical spine is stable and upper cervical spine is mobile. When motion is lost in an area that is fundamentally mobile, the body compensates by seeking mobility from areas that are better suited for stability.
The muscles, of course, are connected in one way or another to the joints. So for example if you’re having problems in your calf, you may have limited mobility in your ankle and feet, which could in turn affect the knee. Even if your hips are tight, your knees may overcompensate and try to provide the mobility. So always start from the ground up by first rolling calves, then quads, then glutes.
No way around it, there is discomfort associated with foam rolling. But “discomfort is okay; excruciating pain is not,” Fowler said. If the discomfort is such that you are having to talk yourself through and remind yourself to breathe, but you are breathing, that is acceptable. However, if the pain is so intense that you are continually holding your breath, it’s too much and you should back off.
Consistency is better than intensity. Using the foam roller a minimum of 3-5 times per week is preferred. Like running, foam rolling is more tolerable if you are consistent in your practice.
How often do you foam roll? How do you feel about foam rolling? Friend or foe? Please share your comments.