At your gym, you may have seen people rolling around on pieces of foam, sometimes even grimacing in pain. Many athletes are now using foam rollers to release myofascial pain and to massage tight muscles.
A few months back, my friend introduced me to the concept of foam rolling. As he began rolling his calves and scowling in discomfort, I almost burst out into laughter thinking it wasn’t possible for a piece of foam to create so much agony. It was not until I tried it that I mimicked the same distress, but strangely, found it to be quite relaxing.
What is Myofascial Pain?
Myofascial pain is a chronic pain disorder that disturbs our fascia which is the connective tissue overlying our muscles. This pain usually occurs after a muscle has been contracted too frequently from repetitive motions from certain exercises or even from sitting in a chair with bad posture. The sensitive parts in your muscle that cause pain when pressure is applied are called “trigger points” and can even escalate into generating pain in different regions of your body. This is known as “referred pain.”
My own trigger point is in my left rotator cuff muscle. Anytime I exert excessive force with my left shoulder, either from weight lifting or even punching, I feel an extreme pain that shoots from that region which then radiates down my arm. Do you have any trigger points?
Foam Roller Benefits
As a general rule, the harder the foam, the more effective but also more painful. The foam roller works by using your own body weight to create pressure that stretches muscles and tendons. By creating muscular elasticity and breaking down scar tissue, blood flow and circulation is increased to the muscle, allowing it to use more oxygen and improve your body’s performance.
But if you stretch regularly, is there a point to using a foam roller? Despite how flexible you are or how much you stretch, you can still get trigger points due to the buildup of fascia which creates those annoying knots. Breaking up the fascia and removing these muscle knots can provide the following benefits:
Surprisingly, the first ever scientific study looking at the effects of foam rolling on muscular performance and joint range of motion was conducted in May 2012. The study found that myofascial release of the quadriceps using a foam roller improved knee joint range of motion without negatively affecting muscular performance.
A different study found that foam rolling before exercise improved performance in terms of strength and jumping ability when compared to static stretching.
Foam roller exercises will help to reduce injuries related to repetitive motions from certain exercises such as running. These motions can cause cause tightness of certain areas and lead to conditions such as iliotibial band syndrome. Regular foam rolling prevents the buildup of the fascia which is responsible for the formation of these trigger points.
If you’ve had a desk job or spend the majority of your day sitting (like the majority of us), then you probably suffer from bad posture. The consequence of bad posture from chronic sitting is myofascial pain and muscle knots. Daily foam rolling will help to release these knots which in turn also releases the tension that they carry. Less tension equals less stress. You’d be amazed at what a single foam roller stretch can do for you.
The Best Foam Roller
If you’re looking for a high quality foam roller, I personally recommend the “The Grid” foam roller by Trigger Point Performance. It is constructed to endure rough and repetitive use without wearing down and is much more firm than the basic foam rollers.
It may be a little expensive, but you’re paying top dollar for a solid piece of work. I’ve used this foam roller daily for over 2 years now and it hasn’t yet shown any signs of wear and tear. Unlike other rollers that lose their shape and break down, this one will retain its form. Don’t believe me? Check out the reviews.
The Bottom Line
Although foam rolling may be the most uncomfortable thing you do in your life, you’ll likely notice that your ability to move will increase at least two-fold. Personally, I’ve noticed foam rolling has allowed me to squat deeper and lift more by removing scar tissue and muscle adhesions.
Click here to view a list of foam roller exercises that you can start using to reap the benefits of your foam roller.