This week’s installment of Strength in Knowledge is Part 2 of a 3-part series on foam rolling. Part 1 discussed the theory behind foam rolling. This week, we will discuss how to safely foam roll. The final installment will highlight a few of the most popular foam rolling techniques.
Foam rolling has been called the “poor man’s massage therapist” as it’s free, aside from the initial cost of a foam roller – which will set you back around $20-30. You just need to know what you’re doing.
With foam rolling, we want to use long sweeping strokes, making sure to maintain normal breathing and keep your muscles relaxed. Make sure not to roll too fast and try to allow the foam roller to sink into your tissues. If you find areas of your muscles that are tighter than the surrounding area, you can spend some time focussing there, trying to coax the muscle tension to take a hike. Typically, as a guideline, I suggest rolling for 1-2 minutes per muscle group, once daily, focussing on quality rolling and listening to your body.
Foam rolling is typically uncomfortable – just as a deep tissue massage would be. However, it should not be outright painful. If you find that you cannot maintain normal breathing and keep the muscles relaxed while rolling, then you need to reduce the amount of pressure you are using. There are a number of ways to do this – increasing the surface area of your body that is in contact with the roller, offloading how much weight you are putting into the roller, and using a handheld roller rather than a foam roller are just a few of the ways this can be done. Additionally, I often suggest working on areas around the tight, tender region with the intent of “feeding slack” to the tight region, prior to directly working on that area.
Foam rolling is relatively safe, assuming common sense is employed. However, there are some key safety considerations. First, don’t roll over bony bits or joints – just stick to the muscle bellies. Second, never do this is you have recently injured the area, particularly in the first 48-72 hours. If you have strained or torn the tissue, you don’t want to possibly cause further damage. To be on the safe side, if you have injured an area, wait until after your healthcare professional gives you the go-ahead before starting or resuming foam rolling in the injured region.
Keep in mind that after foam rolling you should feel better and, although the tissue may be a bit tender to touch, you should not be in more pain. Additionally, it should not cause bruising. If you are in more pain afterwards or notice any bruising later on, this could indicate that either you were too aggressive with your rolling or you were working on a tissue that you shouldn’t have been (i.e. injured or really unhealthy tissue). Finally, foam rolling should never cause any feelings of tingling, numbness or electric, shooting pain. If you feel any of these, stop rolling on the area you are working on. As rule, we want to avoid any deep pressure over nerves and avoid rolling over any irritated nerves.
If you feel uncertain as to whether foam rolling is right for you, or want to learn specific techniques that would be best for you, please feel free to reach out to me!
Teresa Waser is a physiotherapist and owner of RX Physiotherapy. She has a Master of Science in Physical Therapy from the University of Alberta, in addition to several years of continuing education and experience treating patients of all ages. Outside of the clinic, she coaches running and CrossFit and is passionate about helping others live life to the fullest. You can find more about Teresa and how she can help you at rxphysiotherapy.com