14 Jun Foam Rolling
I’ll explain what foam rollers actually are and why you need one!
What is it?: A foam roller is a tool used for self-myofascial release (or self-massage) to release muscle tension and improve mobility.
Why use it?: They are important in helping to prevent overuse injuries which develop over time from a repeated action (like running) and often from poor biomechanics. When you have areas of tightness or muscle imbalance, this can increase your chance of overloading other structures, so using a foam roller a few times a week is a quick and affordable way to minimise the risk of developing an overuse injury.
Which one to use?: They are often made out of different foam densities or may have a PVC lining, so can vary in firmness. As a general rule, the softer the foam, the less intense the massage will be so starting with something a bit softer can be a good starting point. Some have a smooth consistent surface, while others have a varying surface with a grid or knobbly design, which again will vary the intensity of the massage. Typically starting on a smoother surface will be more comfortable, then working into the knobbly surface for a more intense release (some rollers have one smooth and one knobbly side so you can just buy the one!)
How to roll: Key muscles to roll for activities involving your legs include:
- TFL & gluteals (rather than directly over your ITB, focus on releasing the muscles around your hip that it attaches into to decrease tension in the band)
- Quads, adductors & hamstrings
- Calves & tibialis anteriors (front outer part of your shin)
Use your arms and other leg to balance yourself however you feel comfortable while allowing your body weight to rest into the roller. Then use your arms and leg to roll your body along the length of the muscle, while avoiding the bony points.
How often: I don’t recommend rolling every day, just 3-4 times a week. You may find if you roll every day (especially if you are using the knobbly and more intense option) you may start to feel like you are bruising the area. So every second day is a good option and aiming for 1-2 mins to each muscle group as tolerated. When you can manage 2 minutes on a soft or smooth roller quite comfortably, trying giving the knobbly side a go!
If you have pain or an injury: Depending on your specific problem, I recommend using a roller in conjunction with targeted exercises to help address muscle imbalances by also strengthening and improving muscle control. Check out my Physio Phebe Rehab guides for my specific recommendations for each area and if you are unsure of your diagnosis, see a physio for an assessment first.