The Do’s and Don’ts about Foam Rolling
Foam rolling is ever present in gyms, movement studios, homes and even offices. They are inexpensive, easy to use and take up little space. In a short amount of time can often help tight areas of the body relax. But are there any dangers in foam rolling? Is there a method to it? Many people foam roll without much education or guidance, moving into an area that hurts, with the idea that it will help. So to help you make the most of this tool and avoid any pains we’ve compiled a list of some major do’s and don’t of foam rolling along with a bit more understanding of what is going on when you foam roll.
1.Rolling pain or injuries
Rolling sore muscles can help provide some relief but it’s important we don’t confuse pain, injury or inflammation with regular muscle soreness. Rolling or ‘smashing a ball’ onto an area that is injured or inflamed is likened to picking a scab and deepening the injury by further increasing inflammation and aggravating the injury and can even cause nerve damage, muscle damage, or bruising.
2.Rolling aggressively or for long periods of time
There is a tenancy to people to glorify pain when it comes to therapy or fitness as good. But pain is often a sign something is wrong. Rolling can be helpful with light to moderate pressure with some discomfort but avoid pain. The same goes for rolling in the same spot for too long. Rolling aggressively or in the same spot for a long time can also create bruising, nerve damage, muscle damage and inflamation. We suggest never spending longer than 2 minutes in an area at a time.
3.Only using foam rolling to heal
Rolling does not heal injuries nor does it replace proper warm up, workout or cool down! Foam rolling can be complementary to good movement but it cannot substitute or fix a movement dysfunction. Foam rolling alone will only cause some temporary pain relief and can even cause further injury or dysfunction if used as a substitute for therapeutic movement.
4.Breaking up knots or adhesion’s
If you find a particularly painful or sensitive area is best to take large sweeping motions around the area. Avoid trying to pinpoint the area and trying“break up the knot or adhesion”. Some people talk about breaking up the limitations, scar tissue and adhesion’s within the fascia that is causing pain or a limited range of motion. For starters, this is not something an amateur should be attempting. Without education or experience, there is the possibility of doing more harm than good and should be dealt with by an RMT or physical therapist. Unless your physical therapist has instructed you on what to do keep the sensitive areas to the professionals. It’s easy for people to confuse the feeling of a ‘knot’ with things such as tendons, cysts and even cancer, which can, of course, be really harmful if you try to roll out. Fascia is an extremely strong connective tissue made of collagen. The fascia is actually stronger than steel cable which means that rolling a ball or roller will not be able to cause any lasting change in the area. You could instead be adding trauma to the area.
5. Rolling bony or sensitive areas
There are certain areas you should not foam roll. These include bony areas of the body that are likely to cause irritation. Also, avoid rolling areas that you don’t understand why are sore or tender. Not all soreness is due to muscle soreness. Tenderness can be caused by a number of different issues such as infections, cysts, cancer and other illnesses. If you’re not sure what is going on you don’t want to irritate the area further. Avoid rolling the low back, neck, and joints. Instead stick to areas with dense muscle like the calves, quads, traps and glutes.
What is happening when you foam roll and how can it help?
The effect of rolling temporarily tricks the nervous system into relaxing. So you will temporarily feel better. Rolling helps to reduce immediate tension and pain and essentially help manage symptoms of movement dysfunction in the short term.
It won’t, however, cause any long-term changes without structural stress and tissue memory. When we have healthy movement patterns and lifestyle we develop a fascia that supports free movement in a variety of shapes. On the other hand, poor movement patterns, emotional distress, trauma and lifestyle factors can cause movement restriction and pain. When people refer to knots, adhesion’s and scar tissue what their experiencing is dysfunction in their fascia from any of the above causes. What the fascia needs is training in proper movement and posture.
Rolling can help can help to circulate blood, fluid and waste. As a result, it can help with muscle soreness, provide temporary pain relief, relaxation of muscles and help to improve circulation and healing. This is helpful to deal with immediate symptoms but ONLY if used to complement time retraining the tissues with healthy movement patterns.
When and how to best use foam rolling?
If you have sore muscles from training or muscles feel tight do a little rolling in those areas. It can help provide temporary relief and allow you to train in a wider range of motion thus improving your movement patterns. Use a little rolling before and after your workout. Foam rolling, however, on its own is not enough. You have to roll then move! It’s a great tool, but no substitute for a movement practice. Unless you fix the problems causing the pain and mobility issues, you’ll have to keep rolling.