Foam Rolling is one of the most popular methods of body self-help, and for good reason. The cylindrical foam tools are readily available, relatively inexpensive, easy to use, and most importantly; effective!
The two main functions of foam rolling are:
1. To maintain supple muscles and prevent or treat muscular trigger points.
Muscles are designed to stretch and contract in order to move our joints through their full range of motion. If they are not allowed to return to their normal resting length after contraction (as in during exercise), or if they are held a shortened position for lengthy periods (like hip flexors during sitting), they can shorten and become tight and inflexible. Muscles also become short and inflexible when there is an imbalance in strength between muscle groups that are meant to work together. In such cases, one muscle group is over-loaded in trying to compensate for another weaker muscle group.
Foam rolling works by compressing and stretching your muscles using your body weight against the roller while rolling along the muscle length. This helps to lengthen muscles and stretch them out, as well as to release trigger points by bringing blood to the area. Fresh blood helps muscles relax so they are able to settle back to their normal resting length. Rolling along the length of your muscles also helps keep your muscles supple and elastic by breaking down, and preventing the formation of adhesions found between muscle layers and the surrounding tissues. As always, repetition and consistency is key! If you want to see meaningful changes in the length and flexibility of your muscles, it is best to use the roller frequently after exercise and long periods of inactivity.
2. Spinal mobility
In this day and age, many of us spend a significant amount of time in slouched forward positions. Whether it be on the couch or in front of the computer, holding your spine in a forward flexed position for long periods can lead to postural changes, decreased spinal mobility and tension on your nerves and spinal cord. Cue the Foam Roller! After long bouts of slouching, the foam roller can be used to mobilise your thoracic spine (mid back) into extension. Regularly taking breaks to mobilise your mid-back helps to maintain full spinal range of motion and takes tension off your spinal cord and nerves. Mobilising will also improve blood flow to the passive structures of your spine, such as the joints and ligaments, to help keep them in good health too.
It is always a good idea to consult a manual therapist before starting any kind of home treatment. First and foremost this will ensure that it is a safe technique for you to use, and secondly that you are rolling out the correct muscles / spinal segments, with the correct technique. Pain is a funny thing, and often the spot that hurts is not the spot that’s dysfunctional. A professional will also be able to identify any muscular imbalances that may need to be corrected , and give you guidelines as to when you should and shouldn’t roll, and how long you should do it for.
There is nothing better than feeling fit and flexible so you are able to move your body with ease. Why not gift yourself with a foam roller this Christmas and learn a few techniques to empower yourself to achieve just that!
Move Well. Live Well.