Michael Simmer BS, CSCS, LMT, FST
Make sure to roll out, this is a phrase almost all of us have heard at some point in our lives, whether from a coach, a trainer, a friend or an instructor. Most of us listen and will go hop on a foam roller and just start mindlessly rolling, digging through the soreness and pain because it hurts so good. Why? Why do we just hop onto this piece of foam? Because its what we are supposed to do, soft tissue work, adhesions and knots right? How many of us have stopped to think about why we are rolling? Outside of the simple it feels good after, what is it that the roller does and why does it seem to help so many of us after a long workout session.
While there is still very limited research on how foam rolling can impact a persons daily life, the studies to tend to consistently show that indeed foam rolling is doing what we are hoping it is doing, mainly providing a way to warm up our muscles before working out and also providing extra blood flow to our muscles after a workout, which may lead to less soreness the following day. Ok, so now we at least have a real solid idea that foam rolling is working for us and not against us, but still not sure how this magical roller works and why does it hurt so bad sometimes?
When we foam roll we are working to release and soften our fascia, muscle fascia is like a protective casing around our muscle fibers and bundles, one of my massage therapist teachers use to tell us to think of a sausage and that thin clear casing the wraps around the sausage that is what our fascia is doing throughout our entire body. Fascia is what helps give shape to our muscles and structure around the body, tendons and bones which all work together in order to allow us to move how we want to move, run, jump, or lift. As we move throughout our day and especially during our workout sometimes these fascia bundles can get stuck and lose some pliability, these now stuck bands develop together and that is wear adhesions or anyone who has received a sports massage may know the term trigger points, these are those painful areas that you feel when pressure is applied to them, what a therapist will do is work to separate the fibers so they can go back to moving freely and sliding on their own, but when you can not get to a therapist a foam roller is working with the same idea, except you are your own therapist. Being your own therapist can get tricky, and this is where the rolling through the pain comes important, foam rolling may be a little uncomfortable, but it should not get to the point of pain.
This is not a case of if it hurts it is working, and yes after a workout rolling over muscles that are sore will cause discomfort, but you need to be able to know the difference between a muscle that is sore and when something more serious is going on. When using the foam roller be sure to roll our your muscles and not to go after joints or ligaments, if you are having low back pain I would advise skipping rolling directly on your spin and instead go after the surrounding muscle groups, such as your Lats, Quads and Glutes, hitting these larges areas can often solve the problems without rolling across the vertebrae.
Is the roller even worth it? I would still say an emphatic yes, using the roller properly before or post workout is going to help you with warming up which helps with injury prevention and it can help reduce soreness post workouts with an increase and blood flow. Foam rolling just like anything else needs to become part of your routine as the effects are not long lived, foam rolling on Monday will not help you on Saturday, spend about 20 seconds on each muscle group and stick within a safe comfort zone not one of pain.
Foam rolling is an easy and useful trick to have in your workout routine, and one that should become just part of your training day.