Do you remember the first time you saw a Foam Roller? There was a time when they where just the latest novelty craze in every gym, and using it in public arched many an eyebrow.
Now I see one in every gym and physio clinic, heck, I even have one in my bedroom! The great thing is, it's no longer seen as a novelty, because they actually work...if used properly.
HOW FOAM ROLLING WORKS
To understand this, you need to understand fascia.
Any sort of work applied to your muscles that over exerts them causes them to go through a constant process of breakdown and repair.
In time, this will lead to the muscles becoming tight. The fascia/connective tissue that covers and surrounds the muscles, will start to thicken and shorten to protect the underlying muscle from further damage. Sometimes the fibres and fascia contract to much that trigger points form which leads to movement restrictions and sore spots needing to be released.
Fascia can also contract by itself on the muscle it surrounds. It responds negatively to stress and cold causing it to tighten itself around the muscle. And that's a problem. Why? That means that fascia is impacting your movements.
Fascia is made up of snips and snails and puppy dog tails, but more primarily of densely packed collagen fibres that permeate your muscles, bones, nerves, blood vessels and organs. To sum it up, there isn't a place in your body where fascia doesn't exist.
When fascia becomes injured in restricts, which leads to adhesions (knots). When the body senses these injuries it sends out heaps of collagen to build and strengthen the area of concern.
If you grew up with a nana that never threw anything away, this will help explain the above.
When I was little I ran right threw my socks so quickly my nana would always repair them rather then buy new ones. She'd stitch them up by laying countless loops of thread in no rhyme or reason around each of the holes. When I would put them back on they wouldn't fit properly, they'd be smaller in some parts, and wouldn't move like a nice new fresh sock should. And that's essentially how your body goes about fixing adhesions, muscles tears and anything else it sees fit.
So, another more medically relevant example would be: tight fascia around your ITB (iliotibial band) can cause your knee cap (patella) to track incorrectly. If the muscles around your ITB loosen, boom, your knee cap will begin to move properly and your knee stops hurting.
Myofascial release is the application of pressure to eliminate scar tissue and/or soft tissue adhesions by freeing up your fascia. The goal of myofascial therapy is to stretch and loosen the fascia so that the other structures can move more freely. The results can help decrease muscle and joint pain, increase circulation, improve mobility, balance and gait (how your legs move) for peak performance. All in all, myofascial release helps you become stronger, faster and less injury prone.
But wait, I thought this was about foam rolling? That's what you're thinking, yeh? I got excited talking about fascia. It's fascia-nating stuff...sorry couldn't resist that one, anyway...back to foam rolling.
I cannot stress enough if used improperly foam rolling can cause irritation to the area or even injuring your body further. So I'm going to go through the how not's before the how to's.
NOW I'M ACTUALLY GOING TO TALK ABOUT ROLLING
Normally when you have a sore anything gently massaging the area helps, so it would make sense to get the roller on it, yeh? No. When it comes to myofascial release with a foam roller, constantly working the area of concern will create more inflammation and tension in the area, further tensing the muscle and fascia (if you're using the foam roller as instructed by your health care practitioner for a prolonged stretch that's a different story, keep that up).
Where you feel pain is not always the source of the injury. ITB trouble, for example, isn't typically a result of the ITB itself being tight. Sometimes these issues are a result of tightness in the muscle groups that attach the ITB, like the glutes (your butt).
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD?
So, rather than constantly rolling out that area causing pain and discomfort, slowly foam roll your way away from the pain centre to the connecting muscle. Once you get those attachment points, work thoroughly. Proceed back to the area of pain and work gently at first. Not only will you avoid introducing more inflammation, but you'll attack the real source of the injury. Woo!
To be completely honest with you, foam rolling isn't a trip to the day spa, it's not relaxing or nice. It hurts. Speeding through your treatment isn't doing anyone any favours. Slow and deliberate moves will do a heck of a lot more that being Speedy Gonzales.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD?
So while it doesn't hurt if you go fast, you still are circulating blood flow, but fascia takes time to release. Take your time. Go to your happy place. Think of how good it'll feel when it's finished.
If you stay on a spot too long, you can irritate nerves, cause damage and even cell death. Yeh. Heavy stuff.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD?
Be gentle! Start with half your body weight, use your hand or legs to adjust the pressure, and slowly work into your full body weight. If an area isn't releasing (you'll feel it melt) move onto the next area. If it is an area that you really want to get, come back to it later in the day when your muscle have had a chance to relax. Rome wasn't built in a day.
To add to the first point, foam rolling is hard work. For instance when rolling the ITB you'll place almost all of your body weight on your one supported arm or rolling out your quads is holding the plank position.
It's hard to let your position stay on point, most foam rolling is done after your run or workout. You're tired.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD?
Stay focused. if you happen to have a mirror at your gym while you're rolling keep an eye on yourself. This gives immediate feedback to how you're holding your posture. If you're at home whip out your smart phone and video yourself. Or if neither of those options are for you, try waiting until you've recuperated from your workout. You'll be more focused rather than being so spent.
Foam rolling is a great way to work the fascia at home. Myofascial release through orthopedic cupping is by far my favourite add on to massage therapy. For more info on orthapedic cupping visit my massage therapies menu or email me for any questions.