The painful magic of foam rollers
By Laurie Sweig
Published May 24, 2018
When I hear the word foam I think of something comfortable. Foam mattress, foam pillow, the foam that forms on the top of a beer sometimes. Foam rollers are not in the group. Not by a long shot. Yes, they are made of foam but they are meant to cause pain. The kind of pain that leads to healing.
Foam rollers were first used by Feldenkrais method practitioners in the 1980s.
The Feldenkrais Method is a series of slow movements designed to improve body awareness. I have done classes and it is an interesting and effective experience. In 1987, a Feldenkrais student named Sean Gallagher discovered the benefits of using the foam roller for self-massage. Through contacts he introduced the foam rollers to Broadway dancers to use to work out the muscle soreness after a show. The response was incredibly positive. The word then spread to the fitness industry, and now they are used everywhere. I own two of them.
Foam rollers come in various lengths and densities. The most common are 3 feet in length. The shorter version is easier to manoeuvre so they will allow you to work a specific area, such as a quadricep or the muscles running down the side of your abdomen. The density can range from low to firm. The more “give” in the roller the less painful/effective it will be. There is also the bumpy version available when more digging is required.
Using a foam roller is a method of self-massage or technically speaking, self-myofascial release. By slowly rolling over areas of your body, you’ll help to break up those “knots” and/or scar tissue. That in turn helps to speed healing and the recovery process after a workout. The old saying of “no pain, no gain” definitely fits here. It shouldn’t hurt so much that it can’t be tolerated, but it is definitely uncomfortable. Sometimes it feels like you’ve hit a bump in the road. The idea is to smooth out that bump.
That is the release. Simply put, it’s that the muscle is all bunched up in the one spot so it’s shorter than it needs to be to do its job properly. That shortness is also causing problems at either end of the muscle where the tendons connect it to the bone.
Often pain in a knee or a hip is because of something going on in the muscles or fascia of that leg. Foam rolling can bring relief rather quickly.
Personally, I often use the foam roller on my quadriceps and buttocks. During cycling season, it’s those muscles that really get worked. I also use it on my IT (Iliotibial) bands. Talk about a painful process. I will write about that in another article. In the meantime, consider using a foam roller to work out any kinks you’re experiencing. Like flossing your teeth, it’s a good habit to establish.
Something to think about.
Laurie Sweig is a certified personal fitness trainer and Spinning instructor. She owns and operates The Point for Fitness. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.