It's not a pool noodle! What are foam rollers, and what do they do?
By Daniel Jordan - LifeForce PhysiotherapistFoam rollers come in many shapes and sizes; big ones, small ones, some the size of your head! Foam rollers are cylindrical pieces of hard foam, not dissimilar to a pool noodle (just harder and thicker in diameter). Some are as long as 90cm, while others are more compact, and can get as short as 10cm. They can either be hollow (foam around a PVC type tube), or solid, and this can make a difference to the longevity and the firmness of the roller.
WHAT ARE THEY USED FOR?
Foam rollers are used for self-myofacial release – in other words, self-massage. Studies have shown that they can be effective at improving muscle flexibility, and performance post-exercise, and can also help reduce DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) after exercise. It appears that they are most effective when used in conjunction with a stretching program. If you are unsure about how to stretch effectively, check out my article on stretching (“Do you even stretch, Bro?”), here.
...AND HOW DO THEY WORK?
When rolling or pressing on your muscles, you will likely come across certain spots that are more sore than others; these spots are known as trigger points, which are taut bands of muscle tissue that have restricted blood flow, and other electrophysiological (big word… impressed?) elements that contribute to the dysfunction and soreness of the muscle. By rolling along the muscle, you improve muscle fibre extensibility, reduce local tightness which can reduce oxygen levels, and improve blood flow to the area. This results in improvements in flexibility and reductions in pain with movement or touching the area. In short, you’ll feel great afterwards!
HOW DO YOU DO IT?
You lay down with the muscle you want to massage on the foam roller. For example, if you want to massage your quadriceps (driver / thigh) muscles, you lay face down with the roller between your thigh and the floor. You then proceed to support yourself with your arms and roll forwards and backwards along the length of the muscle. If you identify a trigger point, either stop on the sore spot and let your weight sink down into the roller as much as you can bear, or alternatively, roll slowly backwards and forwards across the trigger point until it loses its soreness. There are also some different ways you can mobilise muscle tissue using a foam roller; rather than rolling up and down the length of the muscle, you can try rolling at an angle, or can even stop on a trigger point and roll your body side to side along the length of the roller.
WHERE DO I GET ONE?
Why, at LifeForce health solutions, of course! You can choose between 90cm solid rollers and 30cm hollow rollers, and your physio can tell you which one might be best for you.
Well, what are you waiting for? Get rolling!
Boyle, M. (2006). Foam rolling. Training and Conditioning Magazine, E. Frankel, ed. Ithaca, NY: Momentum Media Sports Publishing.
Hong, C. and Simons, D. (1998). Pathophysiologic and electrophysiologic mechanisms of myofascial trigger points. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 79(7), pp.863-872.
MacDonald, G., Button, D., Drinkwater, E. and Behm, D. (2014). Foam Rolling as a Recovery Tool after an Intense Bout of Physical Activity. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 46(1), pp.131-142.
Mohr, A. (2008). EFFECTIVENESS OF FOAM ROLLING IN COMBINATION WITH A STATIC STRETCHING PROTOCOL OF THE HAMSTRINGS. Master. Oklahoma State University.
Mohr, A., Long, B. and Goad, C. (2014). Effect of Foam Rolling and Static Stretching on Passive Hip-Flexion Range of Motion. JSR, 23(4), pp.296-299.