Foam Rolling….. You may have heard of it before now but chances are you have not realised how much it may change your life. This post will show you both the benefits of foam rolling and how to foam roll. We will go through the science behind the idea, and show you foam rolling exercises.
I can forgive you for assuming that I am exaggerating with the life changing claim, I would have assumed so in your position – but a few weeks back, while standing still something happened in my left calf that floored me. It just ‘pinged’, I don’t know how else to describe it, but it was agonising. I was unable to walk for a couple of days, and gradually hobbled my way back to normality over the course of a week or so.
Two days ago I thought I was safe to start running and cycling again, I had literally forgotten all about my calf issue, the strange blip that had been and gone…..until the following morning!
Whatever it was I had done had left a mark, and it hurt.
Cue lots of googling! Physiotherapy and sports massage is expensive and I wanted to see if there was another ‘at home’ option that I could try to help.
This is where I stumbled across foam rolling. After a lot of reading and watching a few demonstrations I ambled about the house trying to find something that resembled what I needed to give me an instant fix. My temporary solution was a large can of bath-foam – but I intend to try to make one with some PVC pipe with a thick layer of carpet underlay attached.
I laid on my bed to make up for the fact that my roller couldn’t be squashed like a foam roller….and spent ten minutes rolling my leg up and down, focusing on the really sore spots. It required some heavy breathing, but once I stopped, the muscle was softer and the pain was hugely diminished. I am sold! So I knew I should tell you all about it. The benefits are pretty impressive.
I really believe that anyone could benefit from using a foam roll. Whether you are someone who sits at an desk all day, drives for hours or can barely tear themselves from the treadmill – your muscles will thank you for taking time out to roll out. There is no age limit, if you are active you should be foam rolling.
This is the science bit….
The technical term for the thing that happens with you use a foam roller correctly is Myofascial Release.
‘Myo’ means muscle and ‘fascia’ means band. Fascia, an embryological connective tissue, is a 3D continuous web of elastin and collagen fibres surrounded by a viscous fluid called the ground substance. These two fibre types allow it to be very strong yet have a high degree of flexibility whilst the ground substance is a fluid transportation medium and acts a slide and glide mechanism between structures.
Fascia surrounds, infuses and protects every other tissue, tendon, muscle, bone, ligament and organ of the body. In healthy conditions the fascial system is relaxed and wavy in configuration. This provides a cushioning and supportive mechanism allowing us to move safely without restriction or pain.
Following all physical and emotional trauma and through poor posture, fascia scars and hardens in the affected site and along the tension lines imposed on it. This causes the fascial network to lose its cushioning mechanism and internal structures become pulled out of alignment. This in turn creates an abnormal pressure crushing nerves, blood and lymphatic vessels and further creating tension on adjacent pain-sensitive structures and those along the fascial pull.
Problems with the fascia do not show up on CAT scans, X-rays or MRIs, but scientists are beginning to suspect that myofascial disfunction could be behind some chronic pain conditions, including sciatica, headaches and sinusitis.
Foam rolling increased the flow of blood to the muscles, which in turn aids in the delivery of nutrients and removal of waste. This increased movement of blood flow helps to maintain health organs and tissues. The lymphatic system is also stimulated, which in turn supports the immune system.
Lactic acid in particular is able to be absorbed into the blood stream more quickly. This is the substance that builds up naturally in the muscles during anaerobic (intense) exercise. Lactic acid causes painful cramps and fatigue, so it can be a relief to break it down.
The benefits of foam rolling on arterial function was shown in a study by Okamoto et al. It was found that compared to a control group, self-myofascial release using a foam roller reduces arterial stiffness and improves vascular function.
This study investigates the acute effect of SMR (self-myofascial release) using a foam roller on arterial stiffness and vascular endothelial function. Ten healthy young adults performed SMR and control (CON) trials on separate days in a randomized controlled crossover fashion.
The participants performed SMR of the adductor, hamstrings, quadriceps, iliotibial band, and trapezius. Pressure was self-adjusted during myofascial release by applying body weight to the roller and using the hands and feet to offset weight as required.
The baPWV significantly decreased (from 1,202 ± 105 to 1,074 ± 110 cm·s-1) and the plasma NO concentration significantly increased (from 20.4 ± 6.9 to 34.4 ± 17.2 μmol·L-1) after SMR using a foam roller (both p < 0.05), but neither significantly differed after CON trials.
In the same way that a sports relaxes the receiver, once the the initial painful pummelling is over, foam rolling also leaves behind a warm afterglow. The feeling of well being and relaxation is palpable.
Protection from Injury and Post Injury Healing
Many individuals experience muscle stiffness and pain 24-48 hours after a bout of intense exercise. Foam rolling can reduce the intensity and duration of this feeling.
It can be particularly useful for problems with the IT band, which runs down the outside of the leg, from hip to knee. Muscle stiffness can even be caused by sitting or standing in the same position for any length of time, which is the reality of many people employed in office or sales roles.
If a muscle injury had occurred, foam rolling can help by decreasing any muscle fibrosis (adhesions/scar tissue), reducing the likelihood of future problems.
Regular use of a foam roller may benefit spine health, by supporting the back in it’s alignment and positioning. The process of self-myofascial release on the back can benefit muscle balance and promote correct spinal mobility.
The dreaded C word. It is widely agreed that cellulite – that bumpy orange peel affect that frequents some women’s thighs, is a result of interwoven fat fibres in the connective tissue of the legs and other areas. It is suggested therefore that foam rolling can help to break down the adhesions and improve the appearance of cellulite. Worth a try!
Self-myofascial release promotes soft tissue mobilisation, allowing the muscles and tendons lengthen, release and strengthen. This has a huge impact on mobility and also performance in sports and general movement in every day life.
Something that I love about self-myofascial release with a foam roller is the fact that it is so cheap! When you compare it to expensive massages and physiotherapy it is a no brainer to pay somewhere around $10 for something that will last years. You can of course spend far more, depending on brand, special features and materials, but whatever your budget, there will be a foam roller to suit!
The right technique is essential to ensure that you are foam rolling safely. I have listed some important points to remember below – but in my mind, the following video explains very clearly the best technique for foam rolling, including how to position yourself.
In order to get the best out of your foam roller it is essential that you use it properly. The following tips are recommended to ensure you have the best experience.
What are your thoughts? Are you a regular gym bunny, who rolls daily? Or an office worker who is tempted to give rolling a try? We would love to hear from you!
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