On Foam Rolling
On Foam Rolling
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I have been recommending foam rolling exercises for my patients for many years, ever since I myself became a fan. Foam rolling can be a great tool for patients to use at home, in between visits to their chiropractor.
Foam rolling incorporates using one’s body weight to perform self-massage.
A foam roller is a cylinder of high-density foam, usually between one to three feet long and about eight inches in diameter. The density of the foam can vary and will determine in part the depth of penetration into the soft tissues. There are literally thousands of types available, with every imaginable variation. A simple foam roller, one foot long with a softer foam is a good place to start. They run about thirty dollars and can last forever, if you do not own a cat that likes to chew on it, like we did.
There are many kinds of foam rollers on the market today. I recommend starting with a low-density foam, softer to start with, as the higher density foams can be more aggressive on the soft tissues that are being treated. Foam rolling should feel at worst slightly painful when being done.
We give our patients specific exercise programs to do at home, including foam rolling. Not everyone can do foam rolling, so I would not recommend it for older folks unless they are in good physical shape. An older woman who is osteoporotic is at risk for fracturing a bone, so other, more gentle approaches would be advisable.
But for those who can do it, foam rolling can be a great tool to do at home or in the gym, to reduce muscle pain and tightness, to break up old internal scar tissue from previous injuries, or just because you like it because it feels good. Just five minutes a day can make a difference. So many of us are working from home now, working at different desks with chairs that may not be the best fit for our bodies. I recommend taking breaks during the day for a few minutes to do some exercises, including foam rolling to keep the blood flowing into the soft tissues and muscles, to keep limber and flexible. Sitting at a desk for hours at a time causes some muscles to get tight and others to get weak. Keeping in shape physically as well as mentally is important for general health maintenance. Foam rolling, along with healthy eating and keeping well-hydrated, can go a long way towards alleviating a lot of muscle and soft tissue pain and dysfunction.
The idea behind foam rolling is to gently compress and mobilize the soft tissues, the muscles and fascia . Fascia is the connective tissue that envelopes our muscles, as well as all our internal organs, bones, nerves, and blood vessels in our bodies. Fascia is living tissue. It is the fuzz you see when you peel away the skin from a chicken. By compressing these tissues, we are effectively pushing the blood and inflammatory by-products of muscular metabolism out, so they can be carried away by the circulatory and lymphatic systems to be eliminated by the kidneys and liver. When the compression is released, fresh oxygenated blood is pumped back in to replace the old.
Fascia is made of collagen mainly, the most abundant protein in our bodies. Collagen is a long protein molecule.
Another way foam rolling is hypothesized to work is the principle that placing mechanical forces on connective tissues, bone included, creates electromagnetic forces that can re-orient disorganized collagen fibers into more organized patterns that will allow for better movement between fascial planes. One role that fascia plays is to allow for smooth gliding movement between muscles. When injuries occur, be they sudden or cumulative, adhesions can develop between layers of fascia, creating restrictions to normal pain-free movement. Injuries are often subtle and not noticed by patients until they begin to manifest themselves as pain. This can include postural stress caused by sitting for prolonged periods of time in front of a computer screen, typing on a keyboard and using a mouse.
So just placing a foam roller onto the floor and sitting on it is a good place to start. Wear loose, comfortable clothing. Let your body weight do the work. Just sit in place first, then very slowly glide back and forth over the roller with it under the gluteal muscles, the buttocks. It should feel good. Slow and steady is key, and when you find a good spot, stay there for half a minute, then move on to the next. Do not overtreat one region at one time. Just two minutes for the glutes is good at one time, but it can be done multiple times throughout the day, up to ten. So, it is okay to do it twenty minutes in a day, if the tissue is given a break in between, rather than doing it for twenty minutes at one time – that would be too much. But of course, this all depends upon the patient, so using good sense is important, learning to listen to one’s body.
Modifications can also be made. If a patient has difficulty getting on the floor or if there is too much weight to place on the foam roller in that position, doing it in the standing position against a wall is a great alternative method. Imagine placing the foam roller behind your upper back and leaning back into it. The amount of pressure can be varied by moving the feet closer or further from the wall.
There are hundreds if not thousands of foam rolling techniques and exercises, easy to find on the internet or, when you buy a foam roller they are frequently included. The purpose of this discussion was to give a general overview of foam rolling. The reader should consult with these other sources for specific exercises.
By Dr. Scott Siegel, DC
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