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Foam Rolling: A Self- MYOFASCIAL Release (SMR) Technique

Leigh Sherry (Accredited Exercise Physiologist, ESSAM)

You have probably seen people doing it, you have more than likely heard of it and perhaps you are even already doing it?! But what exactly is “Foam Rolling” and what does it do for you?

Foam Rolling is a form of self-myofascial (SMR) release used to aid in recovery. Foam Rollers and other types of SMR (eg Spikey balls) are utilized in both rehabilitative settings and sports performance / general training programs. They come in various sizes, the most common being the 36inch long and 6inch round size. They are a relatively inexpensive piece of equipment that is well received by many patients/ people. Regular use of SMR techniques, including Foam Rolling, is recommended for the best outcomes.

Firstly, let’s define a few terms. ‘Myo’ refers to muscle and Fascia is connective tissue that provides support and protection for the muscles. The connective tissue, fascia, can be affected by overuse, trauma and also inactivity causing inflammation and consequently pain and discomfort. The idea behind this type of SMR is to apply pressure, utilizing the foam roller, to specific points on your body to assist with recovery. Basically, foam rolling produces a massage-like effect on the muscles.

The idea behind SMR is to use your bodyweight in conjunction with the foam roller to slowly roll over the targeted muscles, finding ‘trigger’ (tight, particularly uncomfortable) points, to stimulate stretch receptors (Golgi Tendon Organs) which will produce relaxation in the muscles. SMR also has the added benefit of improving perfusion (blood flow) and breaking down of scar tissue in the targeted area assists in the recovery process. Specific, targeted foam rolling may also assist with your standard stretching/ flexibility regime.

Combining stretching and foam rolling is a great way to improve your mobility. Many flexibility-based exercises can be performed using the foam roller. Another one of their uses is to improve sports performance, strength, stability and balance. There are literally hundreds of variations where we can use the foam roller as an unstable base to provide a training stimuli that develops core strength and stability, balance and proprioception. Foam Rollers may also be used in sports specific movements to improve specific performance parameters. 

Sounds good right? But you are probably thinking “How do I do it?” …

Using your bodyweight to apply moderate pressure to a specific muscle/ muscle group, you SLOWLY roll over the muscle. When you find a “trigger point” pause on it, relax and allow the muscle ‘release’ (you will feel the discomfort subside). Breathing will help you to relax so make sure you are not holding your breath! This is not a “Hero Test” checking to see how much pain you can withstand. So if an area is too sore to roll initially, apply pressure to the surrounding areas to help ‘loosen’ it. You may be sore the day after your session, not excessively, and it is wise to leave it 24-48 hours before working on the same areas again. For the best results, make sure you are well hydrated and catch some rest to let the session take effect.

NEVER ROLL A BONE OR JOINT and AVOID rolling your lower back. Your Allied Health Professional (AHP) eg Physio, Chiropractor are the best professionals to advise you if you need specific work for those areas.

Therapists, Allied Health Professionals and Qualified Personal Trainers are great sources of information to help you develop a program specific to your requirements.