If you’re going to invest in a new piece of workout equipment this year, you may want to consider the foam roller. Foam rolling is a muscle-massaging technique performed by various osteopathic physicians, chiropractors and physical therapy specialists for years, but it’s recently gone mainstream amongst fitness fanatics and in gyms.
Foam rolling allows the practitioner to perform self-massage and release muscle tightness. It can also ease symptoms of a variety of medical conditions.
In the past, only doctors, therapists and professional athletes knew how to use foam rollers, but now, they’re becoming increasing popular with the general public, especially since they can be used at home. Foam rolling can be performed with a simple foam roller, lacrosse ball, or even just your hands. Here are some of the proposed benefits.
Benefit #1: Improves Circulation/Blood Flow
A foam roller offers all the benefits of a massage, without the expense. As you roll, fibrous tissue is broken down, boosting circulation and in turn relieving tension and pain. Increased circulation conferred by the foam roller can lead to lower blood pressure, better range of motion and possibly better quality of life, especially for the elderly.
Here’s how it works: Foam rollers mimic the action of massage therapy by applying pressure to various parts of the circulatory system: capillaries, veins and arteries. It’s tantamount to a workout for the circulatory system.
Secondary effects include release of lactic acid deposits, stimulation of lymph nodes, and pushing into muscle and connective tissues, releasing tension. Circulation is improved as muscles are loosened, resulting in improved oxygen delivery.
Benefit #2: Relieves Muscle Tightness
Feeling tight? Pull out your foam roller and roll away the tensions. Better yet, daily use of the foam roller is the most effective way to prevent problems from occurring, so start rolling before your muscles get sore to reap the benefits.
Foam rollers relieve muscle tightness in several ways:
1. Tight muscles and tendons are stretched, breaking down soft tissue adhesions and old scar tissue (adhesions occur when soft tissue – collagen fibers – adhere to surrounding structures). Your body weight combined with the action of the roller breaks down these adhesions, increasing circulation and blood flow.
2. Just below your skin is a structure called fascia that connects muscle, bones, nerves and blood vessels. Muscle and fascia make up the myofascial system. The foam roller releases the muscles and fascia, in addition to adhesions, and loosens them up with massaging action.
Benefit #3: Increased Muscle Strength
Exercising with the aid of a foam roller may help to engage the muscles and build strength. The inherent instability of the foam roller also works the core and improves balance.
“Balancing on a foam roller requires your body to recruit more muscles, especially in your core, to perform the move,” says Tyler G. Travis, executive director of Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine Medical Fitness and Wellness Center for Active.com.
Studies have also shown that foam rolling prior to a workout increases your strength and allows for more efficient muscle contractions. Thus, foam rolling is an excellent adjunct to any workout routine and will help your performance if used prior to your workout.
Benefit #4: Reduced Pain
Foam rollers are often used by therapists and athletes to mimic myofascial release treatments, which are typically used to help reduce muscle immobility and pain.
Over the years, muscles can build up adhesions and scar tissue that can cause pain. Metabolic wastes can also accrue, especially due to muscle underuse and lack of exercise. The combination of adhesions, scar tissue and metabolic waste can lead to chronic pain. The foam roller helps with the release of these issues. Muscle tension can cause pain as well, and using a foam roller can loosen tense muscles and relieve pain in as little as 10 minutes.
However, you might experience some initial pain as you first begin foam rolling because you’ll be hitting certain trigger points, or knots, in the muscles, and it will take some time for those to get worked out.
If used correctly, and regularly, the foam roller will make an excellent addition to your workout regimen and will reduce those annoying painful trigger points in your muscles. Research foam rolling, and you’ll discover a myriad of exercises targeting all parts of the body and can tailor a routine specific to your needs.
- Dr. Mercola. “The Foam Rolling You Should Be Doing (But Probably Aren’t)”. November 22, 2013, Peak Fitness Presented By Dr.Mercola http://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2013/11/22/foam-roller-exercises.aspx. Internet. Retrieved 7 January 2015.
- Pinola, M. “Ease Muscle Tightness and Give Yourself a Massage with a Foam Roller”. Lifehacker. February 5, 2015. http://lifehacker.com/ease-muscle-tightness-and-give-yourself-a-massage-with-1683755890. Internet. Retrieved 9 February 2015.