Over the last number of years, use of foam rollers has become increasingly popular. In essence, the theory behind use of a foam roller for self-myofascial release is that the pressure applied via the roller to tight musculature (or in some cases connective tissue e.g. ITB) will aid relaxation of the muscle fibres and increase blood flow to the area in order to reduce pain and muscle tension, thereby improving activity and range of movement.
Muscle tension can arise as specific knots known as trigger points or tight bands of fibres running along the muscle. Good posture, along with an effective warm up prior to exercise and cool down post-exertion can help prevent the development or worsening of such muscle tightness. Use of a foam roller is one method available aiming to release tight structures, along with use of heat, massage and effective stretches. Generally these options work in combination with each other, none of the above methods should be used in isolation.
The general technique for use of a foam roller is to roll along the length of the muscle fibres from origin to insertion, in the direction the muscle fibres are travelling. However, prior to beginning use of a foam roller it would be recommended you speak with your therapist or trainer regarding technique for rolling and other activities to complete alongside a rolling programme.
Foam rollers come in a variety of shapes and lengths, generally around 6-10 inches in diameter and 13-36 inches in length. There are also a variety of types of roller:
- Standard foam: these are best for beginners as the foam is softer and can be more comfortable
- Hardened foam: these are slightly firmer foam rollers, generally made of hardened foam or plastic, it is smooth all over. This is generally a good choice to relieve trigger points and tight bands in muscle.
- Rumble roller: this is a foam roller with raised bumps or spikes, generally considered the most painful and hardest roller to tolerate. The aim with the raised areas is that they work deeper into muscle fibres or connective tissue to release tension.
Various areas are particularly suited to foam rolling, such as the Gluts, Hamstrings, ITB, calfs and back. At times you may find a foam roller a little bulky for reaching specific tight areas in your back, gluts or in the shoulders; for these a tennis ball or the harder golf ball may be more helpful.
Foam rolling, or self-myofascial release, when used in conjunction with other methods such as stretches and heat, can reduce muscle tension, improve range of movement and muscle activation whilst increasing blood flow to the affected tissues. Therefore, it can be helpful to aid rehabilitation following injury or aid maintenance of muscle length and condition whilst reducing post-exercise muscle soreness throughout training seasons.