Editors' Choice

Why You Should Use A Foam Roller

Ben Migono / November 18, 2016

Self-myofascial release (SMR) is a method of self-massage to release areas of muscle tightness or trigger points (muscle knots) that are generally the result of injuries or overactive muscles that are overused. This includes overusing your neck, back, and shoulders, yes, even while sitting at a desk all day.


One of the most effective methods of releasing these trigger points is through deep tissue massage. A masseuse would find the knots by feeling them with their hands and then would apply direct pressure and maintaining the pressure for effective results in releasing these trigger points. This encourages the trigger points to relax and release and through the kneading motions, the knots are dispersed and the muscles are stretched back to normal and healthy lengths.


Source: Hyperice

Source: Hyperice


Using a foam roller produces similar results by rolling over these trigger points to apply pressure and flatten out muscle knots. Rolling your muscles helps with muscle recovery, as a therapist’s hands would be used, you’re using a foam roller instead. A great alternative if a therapist is not readily available to you.


For deep tissue massages, it is necessary to apply pressure to the muscles and work out the knots, which will generally be uncomfortable and sometimes painful. There may be feelings of discomfort at first, but that generally means that particular muscle really needs it. The more you do it, the less pain and discomfort you should feel. Through self-myofascial release, one has the ability to control the amount of pressure, the positioning, and the recovery process.


This technique was first used in the 1980s for Feldenkrais method physical therapy and then became more commonly used in 2005 as a therapy tool to help treat muscle tightness in athletes and is now very popular and today.


When using a foam roller, the discomfort or pain that is experienced should be similar to the kind you get when stretching, where it can be uncomfortable but should not be unbearable, and generally should feel better afterwards.


Source: Coal Creek

Source: Coal Creek


The Benefits of Foam Rolling


Stretching is definitely important in re-establishing proper movement and enhancing performance, but it helps to complement stretching with releasing trigger points when treating muscle tightness.


Foam rolling helps with breaking up muscle knots and getting better blood flow, which leads to our body working more effectively in restoring muscle tissue and returning muscles to their normal lengths. The deep compression to the muscle assists in relaxing tight muscles and adhesions that are formed between our muscle layers. When our muscles are not operating optimally, we usually experience a loss of flexibility, adhesions, or pain in our movements. Also, it would limit the range of motion our joints and muscles have, which also negatively affects circulation.
Muscle tightness and trigger points stem from factors include training, flexibility, posture, movement patterns, nutrition, rest, hydration, stress and other lifestyle factors.


How To Use A Foam Roller


The idea of using a foam roller requires having the roller along the ground and having your body weight on top controlling the movement. With moderate pressure, apply it to a specific muscle or muscle group over the roller and use your body weight to roll the muscle slowly. Roll slowly until you find a trigger point or a pain point.


While rolling, when you find areas where you are experiencing pain or tightness, relax your muscles as much as possible, and pause to allow the muscle to release with the applied pressure. Areas to roll include the quadriceps (front thigh), trapezius (back of the neck and upper back), deltoids (shoulder), latissumus dorsi (back), inner thighs, and calf muscles. Click here to see how to roll different muscle groups.



After applying pressure for 10-30 seconds, the pain and discomfort should be lessened. Rest as needed and repeat this process for the rest of the area. You shouldn’t apply pressure for longer than 60 seconds.


The rolling is used to identify the adhesions, and the pressure you apply is used to flatten the knot out. If it becomes too painful to apply direct pressure to a specific area, then work your way up to the area, by treating and loosening the surrounding area first. It is important to make sure you breathe while rolling.


You should always avoid rolling on or close to a joint or bone. To apply pressure to smaller surface areas, you can also use a tennis ball, softball or lacrosse ball.


After foam rolling, you may experience some soreness the next day, since your muscles have been worked and released, however, you should not overdo the foam rolling to a point of unbearable pain or excessive soreness. Foam rolling is only one way to help your body operate as smoothly and effectively. The goal is for our body to recover and to help that, you should drink plenty of water, get enough rest, and eat right.



Foam rollers are also good for those who sit at a desk all day. Sitting at a desk can cause overextension of your back and posterior shoulder muscles due to having your hands out in front on your desk. Your back and shoulders roll forward from sitting, which drastically affects your posture. With so much sitting, many muscles tighten from staying in the same position for extended periods of time, and this can cause knots and tightness in contracted muscle groups.


It can also be used in exercises like push ups and planks, engaging more core muscles, as the roll would force your muscles to have to stabilize your body from rolling.


Ideally, it would be best to roll both before and after workouts, as part of the warm up and cool down process, however if you’re tight on time and can only do one, pre-workout rolling will give the best results.


To read about common mistakes people make with foam rollers, click here.


Benefits of Using A Foam Roller


Not only are foam rollers great for massaging muscles and dispersing knots, they’re also great for alleviating pain, relieving aches, helping muscles return to their normal size and lengths, increasing circulation, and decreasing chances of injury. By regularly rolling out your muscles, you can help decrease recovery time after your workout.


It’s great for rehabbing injured muscles, and it prepares your body better prior to an intense workout.


Also, they’re inexpensive, portable, easy to use, and the whole time you’re using it, you’re in control.


Finally, it doesn’t take more than 10-20 minutes to use. If you can’t get to a masseuse or therapist, this is a great alternative.



What They’re Made Of and Where to Get one


Foam rollers consist of a foam cylinder that can come in various sizes, generally ranging from 12 to 36 inches long and they’re usually 6 inches in diameter.


There are also half roller versions, where one side is flat.


The exterior may vary with some foam rollers that are smooth and some with grooves for added pressure.


The foam used varies as well. Low-density (softer) foam has more give, but the pressure is less intense, and can lose shape over time. High-density (firmer) foam can last longer, but the
firmer surface may be more uncomfortable as the pressure is more intense.


If you’re looking to purchase one, you can click here for options

Featured image via foamrollers.top