Do you have a foam roller?
If you are active and past your twenties, you could benefit immensely by using a foam roller. Perhaps you are like several of my clients; they do own one but either they don’t know where it is or just don’t use it. Wow, that’s like having tennis balls and just using them to play tennis with. (See blog ‘Four remedies to keep you on track between massage sessions’ under the heading ‘Healing Modalities’)
There are many different kinds of foam rollers with varying density so you might end up with several before finding the one that’s right for you, right now. Also, as with all things, shop around, even online because prices vary widely for the same equipment.
How to get started
Assuming you don’t have tears in your muscles and no danger of blood clots (check with your physician or PT first), you can easily roll your calves, hamstrings, quads, IT bands and adductors. For this blog we’ll keep it to those parts of your body.
You can decide where to start based on your self-knowledge and awareness of pain and injuries. Work the area that is the most chronically tight first.
Get on the floor and position the roller under the muscle you want to start rolling, one leg at a time, a couple of inches away from the joint.
Rolling four different compartments of the leg
For calves, place the roller under your calf, sit upright and place your palms as close to your butt as possible, then push down to take your body weight. Stack one leg on top of the other and slowly begin rolling towards your torso and back down. It will get your attention right away. While uncomfortable, take your time and if possible, pause for 15 seconds or so where it hurts most to allow for myofascial release. Don’t forget to breathe.
The blog ‘Massage for Sore Feet’ is about my experience with plantar fasciitis and includes a photo and description of how to do some basic rolling on your calves, which was a major help in my recovery.
For hamstrings, move to the thigh and allow plenty of time for 15-30 second releases as you roll. Hamstrings are tight on many people because of all the sitting we do, so loosen them up! Tight hammies can also contribute to low back pain.
For IT bands, get onto your side, stacking your hips one on top of the other and get the roller underneath your thigh to begin the slow rolling. For most active people IT bands are tight and they put abnormal stress on knee and hip joints, as well as altering our gait.
For quads you will be face down, probably on your elbows or palms for rolling. Pay close attention to the strip of your thigh where the IT bands and quad muscles merge; you will find significant trigger points there that once released will help loosen your whole leg.
For adductors you can splay the target leg out like a frog to roll those inner thigh muscles. Your knees will love you for this and give you faithful service for longer than if you did not roll!
Sorry to say it but stretching alone is not enough to release deep muscle tightness and besides, most of us stretch incorrectly and wonder why our results are unremarkable.
Rolling your legs regularly little by little is a great way to forestall knee and ankle injury and to keep your legs more balanced front to back and side to side so that performance is maximized whether you’re running a race, working out or just going for a short hike.
You will get the immediate results from rolling right after activity, before soreness sets in, so within 15 minutes if you can.
As you get more used to foam rolling you can play around with the positioning to get the more medial (inside) and lateral (outside) muscle fibers.
At first you might only do a couple of minutes at a time depending on how tight you are but I encourage you to stick with it day after day until the discomfort is manageable and you can move on to another target area.
Where can I find a foam roller?
Below are some links to suppliers to get you started. Most sporting goods stores will stock foam rollers and some gyms now have them on hand, but the quality will vary. You’ll probably spend $30 or so
If the roller is too soft it won’t produce much result; if it’s too hard it will cause major pain and possibly bruising. Go easy on yourself at first or ask your trainer or massage therapist for guidance and a demo.
When you graduated from a softer roller to a firmer one, don’t throw the old one out! When you have really pushed your activity you will be glad to use a softer roller again.
Most rollers come with instructions and ideas for use so read those first.