Foam Rolling Physio
Rid yourself of Tight Muscles and Trigger Points with Foam Rolling
When you think of foam rolling you may wonder how this can be of benefit to you. How a piece of equipment requiring you to lie on the ground could be as effective as, say, jogging, aerobics or swimming. The answer is in the flexibility of this – at first glance – stationary piece of equipment. In fact, there are a great many ways a foam roller can be used as part of your exercise routine and training regime.
In the past, foam rollers were only used by professional athletes, coaches and therapists with specific industry knowledge and expertise. With the greater emphasis on fitness, ever-evolving fitness techniques and greater affordability of fitness equipment however, the foam roller has now started to be used by everyday fitness enthusiasts for their regular workouts.
Another name for foam rolling is Self-myofascial release which itself means self-massage in order to release muscle tightness or trigger points. First used in the 1980s as part of the Feldenkrais Method as body supports and to do standing balance work, it was in 1987 that physical therapist Sean Gallagher started to use foam rollers as a self-massage tool and had the dancers at the Broadway show Jerome Robbins Broadway do likewise. They soon became increasingly popular within the Broadway and dance community as an affordable alternative for massage. Its popularity continued to grow when other therapists who had also been using the Feldenkrais Method opted to use foam rollers as an exercise tool for balance and strengthening. Since 2009 foam rolling has also become a popular method of Fascia Training which attempts to improve the functional properties of muscular connective tissues in the human body.
As you can see there is an interesting history and range of uses to which foam rolling can be put to. Most often 30 centimetres long and 15 centimetres in diameter but available in a range of sizes, foam rolling equipment comes in the form of a foam cylinder. There are even a variety of foam roller densities designed for specific uses and the level of experience of the user. These are normally colour coded so that those new to foam rolling can start with a softer foam roller. As recent as 2005, the first foam roller was patented for use as a therapy tool for self-myofascial release muscle therapies. Since then, foam roller design has continued to develop from simply size and density variations to new foam rollers with handles now available for home therapies and exercise. Vibrating foam rollers are also now available as a unique feature for the foam roller enthusiast.
The main purpose of foam rolling is to inhibit overactive muscles. It is a form of stretching which utilises the concept of autogenic inhibition to improve soft tissue extensibility. This relaxes the muscle allowing the activation of the antagonist muscle. There are a number of important muscles that benefit from foam rolling including gastrocnemius, latissimus dorsi, piriformis, adductors, quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors, thoracic spine (trapezius and rhomboids), and tensor fasciae latae. The process of helping these muscles involves rolling the foam roller under each particular muscle group until a tender area needing work is found. Pressure then needs to be maintained on this tender area which is also known as a trigger point for a period of 30 to 60 seconds.
Trigger points and tight muscles are what the foam roller is designed to alleviate. Trigger points are individual knots that form in muscles. They differ from muscle tightness because they refer pain, meaning when pressure is applied to one area of the body the pain is actually felt in another part. You will normally experience pain or discomfort when rolling on tight or sole muscles. This is similar to stretching where the pain feels uncomfortable but not unbearable and is beneficial in the end. Foam rolling benefits you because it allows you to control the healing and recovery process by applying pressure in precise locations as only you can feel exactly where the pain is located.
Foam rolling can be used for more than just injuries however. It can also be of use to runners as a healthy warm-up and cool-down routine. Rolling techniques improve circulation which gets the body ready for a workout and helps it recover afterward. It also breaks down knots that limit range of motion, prepping muscles for stretching. Other uses for a foam roller include, giving yourself a great set of abs, as a yoga prop, building your balance and relaxing your feet after a long day. For a single piece of equipment it offers a great deal of flexibility to any fitness enthusiast and is great value for money in view of the benefits gained.
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Also published on Medium.