What does a physicist, physical therapist, and Broadway star have in common? Give up? The answer is that they were all instrumental in the now popular technique of foam rolling that everyone from runners and weightlifters to weekend warriors is embracing. Fitness centers even have classes on it.
Physicist and martial artist, Moshe Feldenkrais, developed the Fehldenkrais Method in the 1920s to address pain and physical mobility. While the Feldenkrais Method did not catch on, the foam roller used as part of the therapy did, although it took a few decades. In the mid-‘80s, Sean Gallagher a physical therapist started using the roller in his practice.
Gallagher introduced the technique of foam rolling to Broadway choreographer Jerome Robbins. Robbins asked his dancers to experiment with the roller to see if it helped prepare their bodies for their nightly performances. The results were so positive that as the cliché goes, “the rest is history.”
How Do You Roll?
Foam rolling is also known as a self-myofascial release. There are several types of foam rollers depending on what body part is being rolled. Fatter rollers are used for larger body parts like the legs and thighs while thinner ones are designed to reach areas of the back. There are three fundamental ways to roll:
Rolling – The basic method is to employ the roller on different parts of the body by moving the body on the roller. For example, with legs crossed, the roller is placed under the leg as you move slowly back and forth over it.
Stretching – Stretching is a technique where the roller is stationary, but the body part is moved. For example, while on your side, the upper arm rests on the roller while the arm moves back and forth.
Span – The span technique uses the roller in a side-to-side movement to release a sore area.
There are four key aspects to rolling that are important to receiving the optimum results according to Trigger Point Therapy:
- Work your way up the body. Start rolling the legs and continue up the body, doing the back last.
- Move slowly from one area of the body to another.
- Breathe deeply to encourage muscle relaxation and to help you to move slowly.
- Consistency is more important than intensity.
In the beginning, you may feel sore afterward. The discomfort is equated to the type of pain you feel when you get a massage because muscles are being manipulated. Again, with consistency, the soreness will fade.
Benefits of Foam Rolling
A report in the Journal of Sports Rehabilitation said foam rolling along with stretching improves range of motion in the hips. A Canadian study showed that rolling reduced muscle tenderness and enhanced flexibility.
While there were a few studies that didn’t show any benefits, a Time article suggested the differences in results may be due to the length of time study participants rolled. The studies that showed little benefit when the rollers roll for 30 seconds or less. In the studies that showed improvements, the participants rolled for 90 or more seconds.
Advocates of foam rolling say it releases fascia. Fascia connects the muscles and covers the organs, nerves and other bodily tissue. Rolling brings fresh-oxygenated blood to the fascia, releasing tightness and keeping it healthy. However, some studies point to a part of the brain that stimulates relaxation as being the mechanism that reduces soreness and pain in the muscles.
While the processes used in foam rolling to achieve benefits may be argued, research shows that rolling is beneficial.
Foam rolling benefits are said to include:
- Reduction of pain and soreness
- Increase flexibility
- Expand the range of motion
- Improve physical performance
- Help heal injuries
Foam rolling may have had a convoluted journey on its way to becoming popular, but its staying power is the benefits it provides to many.
This information is for educational purposes only. It’s not intended to diagnose, treat, or recommend any specific therapy or treatment. Always speak with your healthcare provider before starting a new therapy or exercise program.
- Heffernan, Conor. The History of The Foam Roller (February 2, 2016). Retrieved from https://physicalculturestudy.com/2016/02/02/the-history-of-the-foam-roller/.
- Heid, Markham. You Asked: Should I Use a Foam Roller? (February 1, 2017). Retrieved from http://time.com/4653956/foam-roller-workout-recovery/.
- Trigger Point. What Exactly Is Foam Rolly and Why Should I Roll? (November 21, 2015). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DzSU2FiFKTM.