Foam Rolling: A Self-Myofascial Release Technique

In light of our last blog post about stretching, I thought it would be beneficial to discuss foam rolling– another alternative to improve joint range of motion. In fact, the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) states foam rolling performed prior to static or dynamic stretches will “improve the tissue’s ability to lengthen during stretching activities”1. However, it’s important to understand the basic concepts of myofascial release before delving in to specific details about foam rolling.

Injury, inflammation, or inactivity can cause decreased tissue elasticity and tissue dehydration. This can lead to the development of fibrous adhesions within the fascia2. Adhesions, also called trigger points, prevent normal muscle mechanics. Myofascial release is a manual treatment technique in which rehabilitation professionals apply gentle, sustained pressure to connective tissues to reduce adhesions, restore normal mobility, and eliminate pain3.

Recent research states the resulting pain relief is achieved by friction between the foam roller and the adhesions within the tight tissue. The friction increases blood flow and causes a thixotropic effect2,4. Basically, the tight tissues become more flexible as a result of the pressure applied. It is also believed that sustained pressure during myofascial release causes autogenic inhibition1. Golgi tendon organs (GTO) are receptors located within muscles and can sense tension applied to muscles. When constant pressure/tension is applied to muscles for prolonged periods of time, the GTOs send signals to the brain to decease trigger point activity. As a result, the muscle lengthens. Ultimately, the GTO response causes the tissues to relax, via inhibition signals, which elongates muscles and reduces pain1. Learn more about GTOs and autogenic inhibition here!

Foam Rolling is a relatively new form of self-myofascial release (SMR)4,5. It uses your own body weight, as opposed to manual pressure applied by a therapist, to break up fibrous adhesions and improve tissue extensibility3. While SMR techniques can be applied with multiple different types of tools, foam rollers tend to be the cheapest and most accessible option.

 

Benefits of Foam Rolling
  • 1. Correction of muscle imbalances
  • 2. Muscle relaxation
  • 3. Increased joint range of motion
  • 4. Improved neuromuscular efficiency
  • 5. Reduced muscle soreness
  • 6. Improved tissue recovery
  • 7. Reduction of pain
  • 8. Increased blood flow
  • 9. Optimal muscle function
  • 10. Stress reduction1,2,5

How to Properly Use Your Foam Roller:

First, position the foam roller under the targeted tissue. Then, apply your body weight and slowly roll the area until a tender spot is found. Continue to apply pressure on that tender spot, either in small oscillations or static pressure, for 30-90 seconds1. Continue down the target tissue until all tenderness has reduced. Vary your body position to isolate specific regions5.

As with all forms of exercise, it is best to consult with your doctor prior to beginning SMR techniques on your own.1

Foam Rolling Exercises to Help Get You Started:

1. Hamstrings

Foam Rolling- HamstringsStart by sitting on the foam roll with your hands on the floor behind you. Slowly roll the foam down the back of your legs toward your knees until a tender spot is felt. Apply pressure for 30-90 seconds. Repeat this process throughout the hamstrings until pain decreases.

2. Iliotibial Bands (IT Bands)

Foam Rolling- IT BandsStart by laying on your side with the foam roll positioned at your hip. Slowly roll the foam down the outside of your leg toward your knee until a tender spot is felt. Apply pressure for 30-90 seconds. Repeat this process throughout the IT band until pain decreases, then switch legs.

3. Quadriceps

Foam Rolling- QuadsStart by laying face down with your elbows in front of your shoulders (like a plank position). The foam roller should be positioned at your hips. Slowly roll the foam down the front of your legs toward your knees until a tender spot is felt. Apply pressure for 30-90 seconds. Repeat this process throughout the quads until pain decreases.

4. Piriformis

Foam Rolling- PiriformisStart by sitting on the foam roll with one arm behind you. Lean into one hip (same side as the arm) and cross that leg over the opposite knee. Slowly roll the foam around the back of your hip/glute region until a tender spot is felt. Apply pressure for 30-90 seconds. Repeat this process throughout the glutes until pain decreases, then switch sides.

5. Thoracic Spine

Foam Rolling- T spineStart by laying on the floor with your mid back on the foam roll. Cross your arms over your chest. Lift your hips of the floor and slowly roll down your mid back until a tender spot is felt. Apply pressure for 30-90 seconds. Repeat this process throughout your mid back until pain decreases.

References
    1. Penney, S. “Foam Rolling- Applying the Techniques of Self-Myofascial Release.” Available at: http://blog.nasm.org/training-benefits/foam-rolling-applying-the-technique-of-self-myofascial-release/ Accessed March 8, 2016.
    2. MacDonald, G. et al. An Acute Bout of Self-Myofascial Release Increased Range of Motion Without a Subsequent Decreased in Muscle Activation or Force. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 27(3) : 812-821, 2013.
    3. Myofascial Release Treatment Centers and Seminars. About Myofascial Release. Available at: https://www.myofascialrelease.com/about/ Accessed March 8, 2016.
    4. Peacock, C. et al. An Acute Bout of Self-Myofascial Release in the Form of Foam Rolling Improves Performance Testing. International Journal of Exercise Science 7(3) : 202-211, 2014.
    5. Healey, K. et al. The Effects of Myofascial Release With Foam Rolling on Performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 28(1) : 61-68, 2013.