There are many trends and fads in the health and fitness realm. Foam rolling definitely felt like it might have been a passing craze. So, a very valid question to ask at this point is - Now that the initial hype phase has passed, does foam rolling actually work? The answer is...
Yes… as long as you do it right!
Let's dive in deeper
There are many types of foam rollers, trigger point devices, and myofascial tools in the world today. Some are definitely better than others. But at the end of the day, the techniques and intentions are generally more important than the tool.
There are a few main areas where foam rollers can be tremendously beneficial and worth the effort. Those are:
- Myofascial Release -or- Trigger Point Release
- Joint Mobilization
- Body Awareness -or- Body Connection.
Myofascial release is the process of getting fascia and muscle to down regulate a.k.a. chill out and relax through pressure. Muscles and fascia also have trigger points which contain mechanoreceptors. Applying pressure to these mechanoreceptors can create a release in tension via the nervous system.
Myofascial release and trigger point release can be done by hand or with myofascial tools such as foam rollers. The "chilling out" process is ultimately beneficial because it creates a sense of relief and relaxation in the body, increases blood flow, and increases the range of motion (rom) or the ability of that tissue to stretch.
Research has shown that there are long term improvements in flexibility with regular foam rolling, but the most practical application is utilizing the acute (short-term) improvements. The key is to gently use that new range of motion by moving and stretching the body immediately after the myofascial release.
As people have become more and more creative with their foam rollers, we have seen these tools being used to facilitate stretches such as the thread the needle stretch and this spinal mobilization drill. Foam rollers are great stretching assistants because of their shape, their ability to roll, and their usefulness in supporting limbs and various parts of the body during active stretches. Ultimately the benefits here are similar to other dynamic stretches but often the foam roller variations turn out to be more targeted or easier to accomplish.
Body Awareness & Connection
In an era where the majority of people are getting more and more disconnected from their bodies, we need all the tools and techniques we can get our hands on to help us more fully use and care for our bodies. By being intentional and present during our foam rolling, we can increase our body awareness and body control so that we can ultimately move better and physically navigate through our lives more gracefully.
Some additional benefits of foam rolling include increased circulation, decreased muscle soreness from exercise (DOMS), improved relationship between tissues such as skin to fascia and fascia to muscle, and increased mindfulness and appreciation for one’s body!
1) Foam Rolling Isn’t About Smashing, Mashing or Breaking Stuff Up - The goal of foam rolling should not be discomfort, pain or intensity. Despite popular belief, there isn't much evidence that any of the benefits from foam rolling comes from breaking up scar tissue or tight musculature.
2) Go Slow & Pause - So focus on trying to relax your overall body mind and that local tissue think mills like butter in a pan or ice cream on a hot day.
3) Breathe Deeply - Intentional deep breathing sends signals to your body that you are safe and allows you to slow down and relax. Deep breathing and making sound stimulate the Vagus nerve, which helps you get your nervous system into relaxation (parasympathetic).
4) Make Sounds - Just like your body naturally likes to make a sound when you are frightened, tired or frustrated, making a sound while you are trying to release tension from your body during foam rolling can be very helpful for assisting in releasing and relaxing. Try out a sigh of relief, a groan or a hum to start exploring what works for you.
5) Internal Dialog - Remind yourself that nothing is attacking you. You are safe to relax, and this is all benefiting your health.
Enjoy better health and movement through foam rolling!