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Foam Rolling

Originally Printed July 4, 2011 in the Vail Daily

If you have ever experienced soreness, trigger points, knots or adhesions in your muscles, you can appreciate the need and potential benefit of massage and soft tissue work.

As effective as massage or “Active Release Techniques” are at improving tissue quality, receiving a massage after every workout, race or day of gardening is not an option for most. A cost effective alternative is to use a foam roller. Although some patients still look at me quizzically when I suggest foam rolling as part of their self-care programs, foam rollers are becoming a popular part of many exercise programs. Foam rollers can now be found in almost every gym, training and rehab center.

Foam rollers come in many shapes, sizes and densities. The basic foam roller is a three-foot-long cylinder made of dense hard-celled foam. Think short, stocky pool noodle. Yo u can also get smaller pack-able foam rollers like "The Grid" from Trigger point therapy which are great for the person on the go. Foam rolling involves using your bodyweight on the roller to roll over trigger points or adhesions in the muscles. Although there are no set rules regarding how long you should roll to improve tissue quality, a 5-10 minute rolling session is usually sufficient. As you roll, the tissue becomes more pliable and less tender. Once the tenderness decreases, you should move onto the next area.

A foam roller is best suited for work in the torso, spine and lower body regions. One of the most effective exercises on the foam roller is to roll through the thoracic spine (the middle back). Thoracic spine mobility is frequently overlooked and is often at the root of many postural and neck problems. These problems can be easily and effectively addressed with a minimal amount of rolling. Additional areas that are commonly addressed with foam rolling include the hamstrings (back of thigh), quadriceps (front of thigh), ilio-tibial band and tensor fascia lata (outer thigh). Less commonly addressed areas include the lattissmus dorsi (lats), hip adductors (groin), calves and glutes.

(Note: I have since changed my stance on rolling the IT band. See the article "Are you still stretching your IT band?" for more info)

Some trainers suggest rolling before workouts. Some suggest rolling after. In a perfect world, you would do both. Given an option to do one or the other, I opt for using the roller prior to working out as part of a warm up. Using the foam roller prior to exercise improves range of motion and tissue quality, setting the stage for a more effective and efficient workout.

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