Updated: Nov 7, 2019
What you need to know;
Foam rolling can help with flexibility and range of motion.
Can help reduce the feeling of DOMS, ( Delayed onset muscle soreness).
Does not break down scar tissue or stretch fascia.
May work on resetting the nervous system activity.
Videos of exercises at the bottom of the page for upper and lower limb.
Foam rollers and trigger balls have increasingly become a bigger part of the sports performance and injury management landscape over the past 10 years. They have been promoted as the cure for all muscle related disorders incurred during everything from crossfit to gardening, no soreness is too big or too small!
There is some substance to the hype of foam rolling exercises.
From the research, it looks as if there is a benefit in increasing the flexibility of the muscles that have been "rolled".
Foam rolling and your Quads and Hamstrings
A couple of studies have shown that the flexibity of the quads and hamstings, the muscles at the front and back of the thigh can increase in flexibility by up to 12%. However, these improvements slowly reduce over the next 72 hours.
Foam Rolling your calves
Another study found foam rolling the calf muscle complex increased the flexibility of ankles.
The most effective way to use the foam roller and trigger ball would appear to be combining foam rolling with static stretching (stationary) which gives a greater increase in range as well as decreasing the time taken for loss of range to occur.
Its really a convenient way to get a massage every day!
In essence foam rolling is a a very easy and inexpensive way to get a massage on sore and achy muscles every day. Not all of us are talented enough to be full athletes with 24 hours access to medical staff. Mind you, not many professional sports stars have this luxury either to be honest!
Some of the most interesting effects of foam rolling is that it helps to ease the pain of muscle soreness post exercise. Especially the kind that really making sitting down onto the toilet painful. (We have all been there!)
For that reason and that reason alone I'm a believer in the foam roller as i hate that feeling and if my choices are not exercising or foam rolling then its an easy one.
What happens when we foam roll ?
There have been alot of claims about the magic of foam rollers and their affect on stretching the fascia which is the connective tissue system in the body.
The mechanisims behind this theory have been fairly speculative rather than definative in the literature and recent research suggests that it would take about 1 tonne of pressure to actually stretch fascia. So I suspect that thuis is NOT what we are achieving.
Nervous system modulation, the graphic equalizer of the body.
Its more than likely that the actual effects are more to do with the turning down the nervous system's excitability. If the nervous system that supplies the muscles, fascia or ligaments is more excited, the tighter or stiffer those structures tend to be. In contrast, the less excitable the nervous system is then the more relaxed the structures it supplies will be.
Thixotrophy, making the tissues less sicky.
As said before it is highly unlikely that foam rolling or trigger ball massage will increase the range of motion by breaking down scar tissue or increasing the length of the tissue. A possible explanation is that by rolling we help reduce the viscosity of fluid in the tissue by agitation and heat. Think the difference between thick sticky honey and runny honey.
This then may allow for better or movemet between the planes of the fascial or muscle tissue.
How to foam roll ot trigger ball.
Be kind to yourself when you roll, no need to smash that poor thigh muscle any more.
The best way to foam roll would appear to be using the following type of protocol;
3 - 4 sets
20-60 seconds rolling per body part.
using a pressure equivalent to 25% bodweight. If 10 out of 10 is maximum pressure then try working at about 3-4 out of ten . Or creating the sensation of light to mild discomfort.
Add in static (stationary) stretching for the muscle groups you rolled afterwards.
Be consistent, you probably need to do daily sessions over a period of weeks for long term meaningful benefits.
Upper body foam roller exercises
Lower body foam roller exercises
It's a good idea to avoid unnecessary foam roller related injuries.
It should go without saying that foam rolling should not under any circumstance cause injury or unnecessary pain.
From an anatomical point of view I'd stay away from the lumbar spine and ITB, you know the side of your leg that you hate getting massaged on.
The low back isn't really designed to cope with direct compressive force but working the thoracic region above and the hips below will be more beneficial. This is because of where the bulk of the muscle lies.
The ITB syndrome is usually due to it being tight and compressing against the leg so its not going to like getting squashed further.
Its all part of a wide variety of self treatment recovery methods.
I like the foam roller and use it for clients that need to move better and get more mobility. However it's just another tool to help with rehab or prehab, very rarely is it the only tool for the job. Certainly from my own experience my flexibility in my back and legs improved greatly when I did it almost daily with additional stretching after.
Be sensible, listen to your body and get into it as a long term investment. Otherwise we may lsee you soon!
I should get back into the roller really.