How to Use a Foam Roller

A foam roller

A foam roller

A foam roller is a 6 inch diameter cylindrical piece of foam ranging from 12-36 inches long.  There are many different types of foam rollers, and you can read some reviews of them here.  Foam rolling should be an integral part of your recovery routine and it is a great way to self massage in between massage treatments.  Imagine two pieces of sandpaper (which would be the surfaces of your muscle fibers) sliding against each other.  Foam rolling will help to smooth out the sandpaper quality of the muscle surfaces and allow for proper movement. Foam rolling also locates knots in muscles and provides deep broad pressure that can help to heal, or at least manage, the knot until your next massage.  You will know you found a knot (when you want to bite your fist in pain), as it is extra sensitive in one area of your muscle and can sometimes feel quite different when it is rolled over.

As part of a maintenance routine, foam rolling should be done a few times per week, and a few times a day for active treatment.  Foam rolling can be quite intense and painful initially, but it will help to alleviate and prevent pain in the long term.  Initially spend about 60-90 seconds per muscle group, pausing on the sensitive areas (which is where the knots are) until the pain dissipates.  The last few strokes should be pushing towards the heart.  This assists the lymph and blood flow back to the main part of the body where it can be filtered.

Foam rolling can be done in a variety of areas for treating a variety of aches and pains.  Here are some basics to get you started.


IT BAND

Rolling the distal portion of the IT band

Rolling the distal portion of the IT band

IT Band rolling with leg adjustment to decrease pressure. I am so happy to be foam rolling my IT Band.

IT Band rolling with leg adjustment to decrease pressure..

The illiotibial band, or IT band for short, connects your tensor fascia latae to your tibia.  As you can see, there is a muscular part of the IT band in your hip, and the rest is just connective tissue.  Knee pain is a common side effect of having an affected IT band, especially in the area just below the outside of your kneecap.  The IT band can get sort of glued to the underlying quadriceps muscle, preventing it from sliding smoothly.  In order to roll the IT band, lay on your side on the foam roller.  Then roll all the way up to your hip flexor, and back down to your knee.  Repeat, and for the last few strokes, roll towards the heart.


QUADRICEPS

Rolling the quads at the distal attachment.

Rolling the quads at the distal attachment.

Rolling the proximal attachment of the quads.

Rolling the proximal attachment of the quads.

Increase pressure by crossing legs.

Increase pressure by crossing legs.

The quadriceps, or quads for short, cover the majority of the front of your thigh.  Knots in your quads can also cause knee pain.  Foam rolling your quads can help with knee and hip pain, in addition to low back pain.  When foam rolling your quads, make sure to cover all of your quads and even into your adductors. You may have to roll your hips slightly to be able to reach all aspects of your quads.  You can foam roll both legs at once or you can increase the pressure by rolling one leg at a time.  Roll from your knees up to your quad attachments on your hip.  Roll up and down several times and close with a few strokes towards your heart.


ADDUCTORS

Adductor rolling at the distal attachments

Adductor rolling at the distal attachments

Adductor rolling

Adductor rolling

Adductor rolling at the proximal attachments

Adductor rolling at the proximal attachments

Adductors can be tricky to foam roll.  Adductors are located on the inside of the leg, with attachments just below the knee and on the ischial tuberosity spreading out along the pelvis.  Roll all the way from the knee to the pelvis, rotating your hips to target different aspects of the adductors.


HAMSTRINGS

Rolling at the proximal attachment of the hamstrings

Rolling at the proximal attachment of the hamstrings

Rolling the distal attachment of the hamstrings and creating more pressure by crossing one leg over the other

Rolling the distal attachment of the hamstrings and creating more pressure by crossing one leg over the other

Hamstrings attach right below your knees, right above your knees, and onto your ischial tuberosity, also known as your sit bones.  Roll all the way from below your knees to your sit bones, back and forth.  You can roll both hamstrings at once, or increase the pressure by crossing one leg over the other.  Hamstring pain and adductor pain can be very similar because they share similar attachments on the ischial tuberosity.


GLUTES

Rolling the glutes. Tilt your hips towards the glutes of the bent leg to increase pressure

Rolling the glutes. Tilt your hips towards the glutes of the bent leg to increase pressure

There are many muscles in the area known as the “glutes, “ which includes hip extensors and hip rotators in the glutes, in addition to a group of muscles specifically known as glutes.  In order to foam roll the glutes, one knee is bent up with the other knee bent and folded over the first.  Roll hips to the side to concentrate pressure on the targeted glutes.  Foam rolling glutes is nice, but I prefer to use a lacrosse ball on my glutes.


CALVES

Rolling the proximal attachment of the calves

Rolling the proximal attachment of the calves

Increase pressure on calf by crossing one leg over the other.

Increase pressure on calf by crossing one leg over the other.

There are many muscles in your “calf.” You can roll up and down from your Achilles tendon to your knee pit, also known as the popliteal crease. This will address all of the muscle bellies in your calf and most of the attachments.  Make sure to roll all aspects of your calf, tilting side to side to cover all the muscles.


TIBIALIS ANTERIOR

Rolling the proximal attachment of tibialis anterior

Rolling the proximal attachment of tibialis anterior

Rolling the distal aspect of the tibilais anterior

Rolling the distal aspect of the tibilais anterior

Rolling the front of your shins may potentially help with shin splints and some calf pain.  Roll by kneeling on the foam roller, and rolling from your knee to your ankle.


BACK

Rolling the bottom of the back in your thoracic area.

Rolling the bottom of the back in your thoracic area.

OUCH! This is the way to NOT roll your lower back. This exaggerates the curve of your lower back.

OUCH! This is the way to NOT roll your lower back.

Foam rolling your back can provide much relief.  You can foam roll your lower back, rolling side to side to address your quadratus lumborum, which is the muscle just to the outside of your erector spinae in your low back.  Do not roll directly on your lumbar vertebrae (your spine in the low back), as this can exacerbate lordosis (excessive sway back).

 

Rolling the top of the back (thoracic area). Can also do this with your arms above your head, in a Superman pose.

Rolling the top of the back (thoracic area). Can also do this with your arms above your head, in a Superman pose.

Rolling the bottom of the back in your thoracic area.

Rolling the bottom of the back in your thoracic area.

You can also foam roll your mid and upper back.  You can do this in sections, or all at once.  Your arms should be crossed, hugging yourself.  Start at your hips and walk your legs out to allow your body to roll across the foam roller.  You can roll all the way up to your neck and back down, leaning to one side or the other to concentrate the pressure.  You can also try back rolling with your arms above your head.  This will engage your lower trapezius muscles and allow you to roll a different aspect of your back and lower traps.


PECTORALIS MAJOR AND MINOR

Rolling your pecs. Roll out towards your shoulder and in towards your chest

Rolling your pecs. Roll out towards your shoulder and in towards your chest

Another way to roll pecs. This uses the edge of the roller to dig in. This one might be better than the other way for some deeper trigger points

A variation of pec rolling. This uses the edge to dig into your muscles.

Pecs can cause tension in your back by pulling the fronts of your shoulders closer together.  This will stretch your back muscles and potentially cause tension.  By foam rolling your pectoralis mucles, you can address postural issues in addition to relieving some pressure on your back.  Position yourself facedown, with most of your body on the floor and the roller under your shoulder with your arm above.  Roll from your shoulder towards your midline (about a quarter of the way across your chest) and back out.  Additionally, you can position the foam roller in a way that the edge can dig deeper to work some trigger points. Also, a great pec stretch you can do with your foam roller is to lay your foam roller lengthwise along your spine and spread your arms out to the side.  You can spread your arms at a variety of angles to address the varying angles of your pecs.


LATISIMUS DORSI

Rolling the lats at the lowest accessible region

Rolling the lats at the lowest accessible region

Rolling the upper attachment on lats

Rolling the upper attachment on lats

The latisimus dorsi, also known as lats, attaches from the front side of your upper arm to the lumbodorsal fascia, which is spread on your lower back.  This can be extra sensitive on your dominant side.  Stretch your arm above your head, and roll up and down between your armpit to your  ribcage.


Foam rolling is a great addition to your daily routine.  Roll each muscle group about 60-90 seconds, with the last few rolls directed toward your heart.


 

Disclaimer
This website and information contained herein is meant for informational purposes only. You assume full responsibility and risk for the appropriate use of this information.

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