Foam rolling is a way for someone to roll out his or her muscles on their own. Many people don’t like it, because it can cause temporary discomfort. However, perhaps if you learn what’s really going on, you might decide it is worth rolling through that discomfort in order to feel huge relief on the other side.
First we need a small anatomy lesson. All our muscles and organs are encased in something called fascia. Fascia is a thin sheath of fibrous connective tissue enclosing a muscle, organ, bone, artery, or other structure in the body. It wraps around these like a spider’s web. Fascia provides our body with support and protection.
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When we injure ourselves or work a muscle too hard and cause strains or extreme soreness, our body initiates an inflammatory response. Inflammation helps our bodies heal by sending more cells to the area to repair damage, hence the swelling we see from the outside. Inflammation restricts the fascia and causes pressure, which can feel painful and restrict our ability to move and be as flexible as normal.
Myofascial release is a technique used to release the pressure we are talking about. This technique works by applying gentle pressure to the myofascial tissue restrictions. Sustaining this pressure to a restricted area allows the fascia to release, eliminating pain and allowing for movement to be restored.
Foam rolling is a form of myofascial release that can be done on a variety of rollers ranging in softness or stiffness, or on a tennis ball, lacrosse ball, etc. The point is to roll the affected muscle area around on the selected surface. Many athletes and physical therapists use foam rolling in order to help muscles recover when they are overused, overly tight, and sore.
Foam rolling, which is very similar to getting a massage, helps promote blood flow to the muscle being targeted and clear out wastes that build up in our muscles, causing soreness. That being said, it is important to be kind to your body after foam rolling. Because waste is broken up, it’s important to drink plenty of water and eat cleanly afterward to help flush these waste products from your system.
Foam rolling a tight muscle can feel uncomfortable in the same way that having a knot massaged out feels uncomfortable. But once you get the knot to release, you feel better, right? Same idea with foam rolling. You must gently roll over knots and adhesions until these trigger points release and relax again.
It is important to note that foam rolling, like massages, treat the symptom of your problem, not the cause of your problem. If you have tight IT bands and constantly feel knee pain, rolling your IT band will provide relief … temporarily. However, until you treat the cause of this knee pain and tightness (likely tendonitis, which can be caused by gait problems, improper running form, improper shoes, etc.), you will have to continue foam rolling. If this sounds like you, that’s something you should talk to your doctor or trainers about.
Ultimately, foam rolling is not a cure all. However, it is beneficial in helping our muscles recover after a hard workout by promoting blood flow and clearing out wastes. It is also beneficial when trying to minimize pain and discomfort that is stemming from a larger problem. Plus, it just feels so good afterward!