-By Brett Qualls, PT, DPT, OCS
Most of us who own a foam roller would describe it as the classic example of a “love-hate relationship”. While the use of foam rollers is certainly not new, it has definitely spread in both the rehab and fitness worlds in recent years. A foam roll is really nothing more than the name implies, it is a long roll of dense foam. A number of varieties arise in recent years. These varieties include foam rolls with bumps, dense rolls, small rolls, half rolls, and a wide array of colors. While each variation may offer some slight difference, I favor the old classic full-length dense foam roll.
As with most type of new exercise, always speak with a health care professional prior to starting. Caution should be taken if you have history of joint replacement or osteoporosis. Both of these conditions in particular could prohibit using a foam roller safely.
The foam roll can be a very powerful tool when it comes to stretching, self-massage, and postural correction. The trick to its effectiveness is to use your foam roll regularly! Otherwise, it will end up like that treadmill that now simply takes up space and collect dust.
Everyone’s favorite type of exercise can be done while using a foam roll. You can use the dense surface of the foam roll to help you with posture while you stretch some key muscle groups. Lying on the foam roll is a great place to isolate a stretch to your chest (pectoral muscles) muscles. The foam roll allows you to relax into a deep stretch, without having to worry about compromising your posture.
You can use the rolling nature of the foam roll to get a good massage for various muscle and fascial groups. This is where most people would say that they both love and despise their foam roll. Fascia is the dense connective tissue that surrounds muscles. It lives in between the various layers of muscle and tissue in your body.
The lighter version of massage would be to use it like a rolling pin and physically roll it over the muscle group or body part that is tight or sore. I would call this the “training wheels” version. To get a more significant change, use your bodyweight to roll yourself over the foam roller. This usually feels something like fire, but you get a good bang for your buck with this technique for loosening up fascial tissues. I suggest 8-10 rolls along the length of the muscle or tissue that you are working on. Foam rolling is great for the IT band, mid-back, hamstrings, and quadriceps.
With a more dense foam roll, you can actually use it to help with small corrections to your posture. A beginner technique would be to lie on the roll on your back, making sure that your entire spine from tailbone to head are on the roll. Spending a few minutes relaxing and focusing on your breathing can help to align the spine. Use a towel roll or small pillow under your head if you find that you cannot comfortably relax your head onto the roll. A good suggestion would be to spend 3-5 minutes relaxing in this position to allow your spine to settle into a more neutral position.
Using a foam roll is kind of like flossing your teeth; it isn’t very fun, but it feels great when you are done! Foam rolls can be purchased in most retailers that offer a sporting goods section, usually found with the yoga equipment. A foam roll can be an excellent tool to keep the active body in shape and also to help loosen up tight muscles and fascia.
*Copyright Havasu Living Magazine