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SORE MUSCLES? HERE'S HOW TO USE A FOAM ROLLER FOR RECOVERY

using a foam roller

Foam rollers aren’t for everybody. Sometimes they can feel a bit too intense and hard to master - especially for inexperienced users, or without proper technique. But foam rolling doesn’t have to be a challenge! In fact, foam rolling is an amazing type of self-massage that can help significantly with sore muscles, tightness and tension. 

This article will explore the various advantages that foam rollers provide and how they can efficiently target muscle groups, tendons, fascia, and other soft tissues. Once you get the hang of it, it may very well be a game changer for you. 

So if you’re curious about how to use a foam roller for recovery, look no further. And if you’re already a foam roller expert? We may still have some tips and techniques up our sleeve that could benefit you. 

Let’s take a look at a variety of helpful foam roller exercises out there!

What is a foam roller?

A foam roller is a reliable recovery tool known for relieving tension, promoting circulation, and enhancing muscle mobility. Also known as a tool for self-myofascial release, foam rollers are beneficial for warming up and loosening tight muscles, fascia, and other connective tissues.

Today, you can find foam rollers in different shapes and sizes, like long, smooth cylinders or smaller, rigid cylinders. While we usually think of foam rollers as being either hollow foam or solid foam, some rollers are also available in rubber or mixed materials.

Proper foam rolling can be the key to getting back to your activities faster, safer and more comfortably. For the best outcome, it’s important to find the right foam roller for you, and to have some guidance from a physical therapist.

Useful foam rolling techniques

A foam roller can be used on the upper, lower and middle areas of the body. The following exercises target areas which can become tight and sore after activities. Rolling the body ahead of a work out can also be beneficial, as it prepares the body to be physically challenged.

Roll the lower body:

Calf

  • Sit on the floor with the foam roller underneath the upper ankles
  • Lift your hips up and move your body forward and down towards the roller 
  • Move so that the roller is an inch nearer to the knee, then rock side to side for 15-30 seconds
  • Repeat inch by inch up towards the knee

    Quads

    • With the foam roller on the floor, face down with the roller on the quads
    • Move so that the roller is an inch closer to the hip, then rock side to side for 15-30 seconds 
    • Repeat inch by inch up towards the hip

    IT band and outer thigh

    • Lie on your side with the roller placed above the right knee, on the side of the leg
    • Move until the roller is an inch closer to the hip, then rock side to side for 15-30 seconds 
    • Repeat inch by inch moving towards the hip
    • Repeat on left leg

    Glutes

    • Place the roller underneath your butt
    • Bring one leg across until the ankle rests on the opposite knee/thigh
    • Move the roller up and down and side to side, using your arms for support behind the roller
    • body weight, Hold pressure on tight area(s) for 15-30 seconds

    Hamstrings

    • Sit on the floor with each leg straight out, with the foam roller underneath your hamstrings
    • Lift your body up so you’re resting on the roller, then slowly roll up and down between the back of your knees and glutes, paying close attention to tighter areas
    • Roll for 30 seconds

    Roll the middle body

    Back

    • Lay on your back with the foam roller horizontally underneath, knees bent with feet flat on the floor, arms down by your sides or crossed in front of your chest
    • Engage your core and lift up into a shallow bridge position
    • Roll up and down slowly between your lower neck and mid-back, paying close attention to tighter areas
    • Repeat for 30 seconds

    Roll the upper body

    Tricep

    • Place a foam roller on a sturdy surface 
    • Place the back of your tricep on the roller above your elbow
    • Press your arm into the roller with your other hand, rocking your upper arm side to side slightly
    • Hold the position longer on any tight spots
    • Work up your tricep towards your shoulder
    • Repeat on other tricep

    Forearm

    • Place a foam roller on a sturdy surface
    • Place your forearm over the roller below your elbow
    • Press down on your forearm with the other hand, making circles on the ball
    • Hold the position longer on any tight spots
    • Roll the ball along the underside of your forearm, moving towards the outside of your forearm
    • Repeat on other arm

    Bicep

    • Place a roller on a flat surface 
    • Facing the ground, place your bicep on the roller above the inside of your elbow
    • Rock side to side 
    • Hold the position longer on tight spots 
    • Move the roller higher on your bicep toward your shoulder, rocking side to side
    • Repeat on other bicep

    How does foam rolling work?

    In sports physical therapy, incorporating foam rolling into your routine can improve both your warm-up before a workout and your recovery after exercise.

    Foam rolling works by sending messages to your nervous system from the specific muscles, tendons, and fascia that are being worked on. This helps relax tension and stiffness in your muscle tissue and other connective tissues, increasing the range of motion in these areas. Just as importantly, foam rolling instigates blood flow, allowing much needed nutrients and oxygen to make their way to the tissues.

    Foam rolling safety tips 

    Foam rolling massage is a convenient way to recover your muscles in the comfort of your own home. Incorporating foam rollers into your massage therapy routine, both before and after exercise, can yield noticeable recovery benefits. 

    It’s important to remember, however, that foam rolling can pose potential risks if used improperly. Keep the following in mind:

    Do not use on severely injured muscles or conditions

    If you have a specific condition, syndrome, or circumstance affecting your health, it's not advisable to use a foam roller. Those with injured muscles, or those who lack overall healthy muscle function, should refrain from attempting any foam rolling techniques until cleared by your physician and/or specialist. Technique supervision may be necessary in these cases.

    Consult a physical therapist for guidance

    It’s crucial to get correct, professional guidance when testing out a new recovery method - like foam rolling massage - on a muscle group. A physical therapist can help to accurately assess your specific muscle issues and decide if foam rolling is the best course of action for you. Once you’ve been taught how to effectively use these rollers, you could begin practicing your exercise recovery at home.  

    The aim is always to improve your situation, not to impede your recovery. It's important to get the maximum benefit out of a well-customized recovery plan, appropriately suited to your needs. 

    How can I pick the best foam roller for me?

    There are three main types of foam rollers on the market currently. It will depend on the intensity level you’re looking for, as well as the budget you had in mind for your recovery:

    • Smooth foam roller: This type of foam roller is the common cylinder shape, made out of dense, flat foam that delivers even pressure. This foam roller is the least expensive option, being the most basic selection.
    • Textured foam roller: This type of foam roller has a textured feel which delivers more precise pressure on isolated areas. This foam roller is a more expensive option than its basic counterpart, targeting tight areas and knots on a deeper level.
    • Vibrating foam roller: This type of foam roller is the most modern option on the market, combining the massage capabilities of a foam roller in its shape, and the vibration mechanism of a massage gun. This foam roller is the most expensive choice available. 

    What benefits can I get from a foam roll session?

    When done correctly, foam rolling as a massage technique can significantly enhance both your warm-up and cool-down routines. This type of manual therapy helps prepare your body for exercise and aids in recovery.

    Below are some of the benefits of foam rolling:

    Increases range of motion

    Stiffness can cause a halt in your range of motion. When this happens before a workout, it can impede your ability to reach your goals of that particular exercise. When it occurs after the fact, it may take you longer to re-engage in that workout routine. Foam rolling can help loosen up your stiff muscles and connective tissues, improving your mobility.

    Warms up muscles

    When your muscles and connective tissues heat up from the repeated rolling pattern, they naturally become more malleable. This can help reduce risk of injury during a workout, and help to prevent muscle pain from occurring afterwards. 

    Helps you relax

    Self massage using a foam roller can not only help your physical state, but improve your mental well being. Relaxation felt during use, as well as afterwards, can relieve stress and improve your mood and focus. Once tension is reduced in an area, active individuals are more likely to feel motivated in their performance, as well as in their recovery maintenance.

    Reduces pain

    Myofascial release through foam rolling can stimulate your muscles for a relaxing effect. Stiffness, soreness, pain and discomfort - all which can accompany or follow strenuous exercise - are relieved more quickly with the help of this type of physical therapy.

    Increases circulation

    Foam rolling can help remove inflammation by flushing out the connective tissues. Through proper foam roll massage techniques, these tissues can benefit from replacing waste with nutrients in the bloodstream, encouraging essential soft tissue repair.

    Reduces muscle soreness

    Following intense exercise, a proper foam rolling routine can help prevent problematic levels of muscle damage from occurring and increase oxygenated blood flow. These processes reduce soft tissue inflammation and soreness. Ultimately, this may help your athletic performance as you’ll be able to get back out there sooner.

    What else can aid in recovery?

    In addition to foam rolling, there are many other ways you can recover from exercise-related muscle soreness, as well as various other types of muscle tightness or discomfort:

    • Ice pack: Cold applications at intervals (i.e. 20 mins on, 30 mins off) can help to reduce localized inflammation and swelling. Be sure not to place ice packs directly on skin - use a tea towel or cloth as a barrier.
    • Warm/Hot baths: When muscles are warmed, they begin to relax, relieving tension and stiffness. Blood circulation is also increased when submerged in warm water. Be sure your bath water isn’t too hot to the touch, as it should not be painful to the skin.
    • Painkillers/NSAIDS: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs reduce and/or relieve inflammation in the body. Always read the label carefully and check with your physician before taking any medication you aren’t accustomed to (even if its OTC)
    • Conventional massage: Massages performed by a professional, as well as self-massages, can help to relieve tightness and restore blood flow to the muscles. This is particularly effective in the time frame shortly after training. 
    • Supportive footwear: Active recovery shoes keep you balanced, secure and comfortable. They are a great addition to many of your daily routines, helping to avoid and/or reduce muscle soreness.

    When to seek medical advice 

    If you’re experiencing any pain that is sharp, unexplained or unwavering, you may have a more serious injury that requires intervention from a physician. Get in touch with your doctor if you aren’t sure about any persistent and/or problematic pain you’re feeling, especially if it interrupts your daily routines and is affecting your quality of life. 

    Any pain that feels concerning or severe should receive the proper medical attention and assessment required. Depending on the circumstance and findings, your general practitioner may refer you to a specialist for a deeper assessment.

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