I’ve owned a foam roller for about 8 years after learning about it from personal trainers and physical therapists. As an active person, I’ve had my share of tight muscles. The foam roller is an excellent tool for massage and stretching.
The foam roller is such a simple yet effective technique to balance the body.
Recently, I was experiencing ankle stiffness after my dance class. I gave myself acupuncture (yes, it’s possible!) and went to see my osteopath. She found that the tightness was coming from a twist in my lower leg and she was able to unravel it to release the stiffness. I went to dance class, and my ankle stiffened again. I finally was reminded of the foam roller and I rolled my lower leg. My ankle released! Now, I am committed to roll my leg before and after dance class to prevent this issue.
I recommend the foam roller to many of my patients- for those who play sports or work out to those who sit at a computer most of the day.
Many of the patients have noticed foam rollers in their gym, but they don’t how to use them. Once they discover the possibilities of the foam roller, they are hooked. Some of my clients have released chronic knee tightness from using the foam roller on their upper and lower legs. Many of my clients notice better posture by releasing tightness in their upper and lower backs. The foam roller is an excellent way to support your own body in between massages and acupuncture treatments.
Here are some of my favorite SIMPLE ways to use the foam roller that I have learned from the experts over the years.
Lengthwise (to body)
Lay on the roller lengthwise to your spine with the back of your head supported and your tailbone supported on the roller. Bend your knees with your feet on the floor to balance yourself. Open your arms out in a T shape. Breathe. Breathe some more. You should feel an opening in your upper chest. Keep on breathing until you feel a gentle loosening in your shoulders, chest, and back.
This is a great stretch for people who slouch or sit at the computer most of the day.
Horizontal (to body)
You can use the foam roller horizontal to your body to massage the muscles in your back and legs by slowly rolling on the muscles. Use your legs to support and balance your body while rolling your back. Use your arms to support and balance your body while rolling your legs.
To release the stiffness in my ankle, I use the foam roller horizontally on my lower legs by slowly rolling the foam roller from under my knees to my ankles. When I find a tight spot, I hold that spot over the roller until it loosens and I move on to another spot. I spent about 15 minutes to initially release my lower leg, and now I can maintain it by rolling for about 5 minutes each time.
- Go slow. Slowly get on and off of the roller. Take your time and slowly roll.
- Breathe. Breathe while stretching and releasing tight spots.
- Don’t push it! The foam roller can be intense if working on very tight muscles. Go slow. Releasing chronic tension takes time. This is not a one-time release but is meant to be used consistently over time to slowly release.
- Maintain good posture and body alignment. Don’t over-arch your back or neck. Keep your body in a neutral position.
- You can increase or decrease the pressure on the roller by supporting your weight with your legs or your arms depending on the area you are working on.
- You can use the foam roller before and/or after exercise. If you exercise with a muscle that is already tight, it will be difficult to work the muscle correctly which can put undue strain on other muscles. In this case, use the foam roller to release the tightness before exercise to balance your whole musculature. For general maintenance, use the foam roller after exercise or after a long day at the computer to stretch.
Here is an excellent instructional video I found on youtube from a physical therapist on releasing the upper back : Release Tension with the Foam Roller
Here is a helpful handout to learn more about myofascial release using the foam roller: (please note that the first three pages are for us regular folks (the other pages are for athletic training): Perform Better Foam Roller Exercise Instruction.
Where to Buy your Foam Roller
You can find a foam roller at your local sports store or online for about $20-$30. There used to be only one option (a white foam roller), now there are many density options for various uses. I would recommend to start with a simple roller and you can always upgrade if needed.
Please note that if you have an injury, you need to have this evaluated by your doctor. A foam roller is best used to stretch and massage out muscles that are tight. It may not be appropriate for injured muscles, sprains or strains, disc issues, pinched nerves or other injuries. I recommend to work with a physical therapist who can design a customized routine to best support your condition.