The Benefits to Foam Rolling
Written by Bryce Smith
As a freshman in college, I got my first taste of what it takes to be a great athlete. With basketball practice for three hours and then working out in the weight room for an hour each day, my body was getting pretty beat up. Being a youngster, I thought my body was indestructible and never really spent too much time stretching, icing, or most importantly foam rolling. As a result, I developed plantar fasciitis, which is pain in the bottom of your foot that especially hurts first thing in the morning when you try to get out of bed and stand on it, or after sitting for awhile. At 18 years old, I was limping from my bed to the bathroom each morning and it took me a good hour or two for the fascia on the bottom of my foot to loosen up. The tightness in my legs from my hips, through my thighs, calves, and down to my feet led to this painful injury. You see, your body is a kinetic chain, meaning it is all connected and any muscular imbalance or lack of mobility in one area can be tremendously detrimental to other areas of your body in the long run.
In addition, after running the LA marathon in 2011 and being a basketball player my entire life, I developed IT Band Syndrome as a result of overuse. Iliotibial (IT) Band Syndrome is a very common injury that causes pain primarily on the outer (lateral) lower thigh and can lead to lateral knee pain. The pain in general was a result of tight or weak muscles, or chronic or acute injuries that occurred either over time or from a traumatic injury. So you see, I dug myself into a deep hole when the simple solution was to foam roll. Pain in general for most injuries can be treated immediately with ‘Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation (R.I.C.E.)’ but foam rolling must play a key roll in the RICE treatment as well; otherwise we are not attacking the deeper issues that could be causing the pain. Many injuries are like a hole in the wall and most people simply put a picture over this hole and mask the pain without actually attacking the deeper issue and fixing the problem. Foam rolling serves as a great tool to help attack the deeper issues that cause pain from tight and shortened muscles. Here are a few key stretching techniques that can be used to help prevent injuries.
First and foremost, I recommend giving yourself some tough love. Applying direct pressure is the best way to eliminate and prevent troublesome muscle knots. The foam roller is a cylindrical device that is six inches in diameter and helps to break up and relieve muscle knots. These knots can sometimes be stubborn, and it may take a few foam rolling sessions to get rid of the sore spots. Make sure to also roll out the areas upstream and downstream from the injury or tight areas. By using your own body weight, the foam roller helps to generate direct pressure on the knot. Even though I hate bread and believe it causes a ton of health concerns in millions around the world, the analogy I like to use is using a rolling pin to roll out the lumps in bread dough.
Foam rolling is a great way to loosen the fascia within your body. Fascia is a band or sheath of connective tissue investing, supporting, or binding together internal organs or parts of the body. Foam rolling offers the same benefits of an intense sports massage without the huge price tag. You want to kill the foam roller or masseuse at the time and you moan and groan, but afterward, you usually feel like a million bucks. The foam roller not only helps to stretch muscles and tendons, but its digs deep down into those hard to reach areas and helps to break down soft tissue and scar tissue. Using your own body weight on the cylindrical foal roller enables one to perform self massage, myofascial release, break up trigger points, soothe tight fascia, and increase blood flow and circulation throughout the body. For more intense self massage, try using a lacrosse ball, golf ball, or rolling out on a barbell. To treat my plantar fasciitis, I primarily rolled a golf ball and lacrosse ball on the bottom of my foot in addition to intense and painful friction massage paired with common calf and Achilles stretching.
Myofascial release is a method in which a masseuse or athlete uses gentle, sustained pressure on the soft tissues while applying traction to the fascia (pulling apart the fascia which is causing pain, tightness, or limited range of motion). This method leads to softening and lengthening of the fascia and breaks apart scar tissue or adhesions between bones, muscles, and the skin. Foam rolling is tremendously beneficial for those with IT Band syndrome leading to lateral knee pain, Plantar Fasciitis, and those looking to enhance flexibility and increase range of motion. Better flexibility and range of motion will improve overall fitness levels, reduce the risk of potential injury, enable potential performance enhancements, and lead to a better ability to complete activities of daily living. Most importantly, foam rollers are an inexpensive yet highly effective piece of equipment that are easy to find in most sporting goods stores for less than twenty bucks. With some experimentation, you will be able to target just about any muscle group.
Foam rolling is my version of physical therapy, and helps keep my money in my pocket rather than being spent on medical costs. My foam roller is a phenomenal alternative to pricey trips to massage therapists, it is always available, AND DOESN’T ACCEPT TIPS! A few minutes of rolling out a day will keep you feeling young for years to come.