Written by Britt Jonat, RMT
In the past few years the use of a foam roller or lacrosse ball for self-care has exploded in popularity and for good reason. These tools can be highly effective in both the prevention and rehabilitation of injury if used properly. Now unfortunately as with any self-care exercise, not only do you have to actually roll but you have to use proper technique to feel the benefits and since rolling in itself is usually not the most pleasant experience why not try to make your time on these self torture devices the most productive you can. To accomplish this here are some guidelines to follow.
Slow it down
As mentioned earlier, rolling can be quite intense, especially if you are new to it. While it may be tempting to roll as quickly as humanely possible, skimming over each body part as if the foam roller itself were made of hot coals this technique is really not going to get you anywhere. Instead roll slowly and with intent, it should take about 20 seconds to do one pass of any muscle. For those of you who are unsure of how long 20 seconds really is sing twinkle twinkle little star or the alphabet twice.
Pressure: more isn’t always better
Foam rolling is very similar to massage, so it makes sense that when foam rolling you would follow the same basic principles your massage therapist does. Now hopefully this means starting lighter and working deeper as the treatment continues. Your first pass over a muscle group should be a bit lighter and as you work the muscle you can slowly add more pressure by putting more of your bodyweight into it. Using this technique allows the muscle you are working to relax and makes the whole experience less intense.
The goal of foam rolling is to increase the mobility or amount of movement within the tissue your rolling. In order to do this you need to actually get the tissue you are working moving. For example when rolling out the quad or front of the thigh bend and straighten the knee. This causes the tissues underneath the skin to slide as well as the muscle to lengthen and shorten which will aid in breaking up adhesions between and within tissues.
You may have noticed when you go into see your RMT with a sore low back, the massage therapist most likely doesn’t spend the full session just working with your back. They may treat your glutes, hip flexors and hamstrings as well. To explain this in the simplest way possible this is because your thigh bone really is connected to your hip bone which is connected to your back bone, so treating the surrounding structures can positively influence the affected area. The same approach is important when rolling. Instead of fixating on the area that is injured or sore first address the muscles surrounding it. So tonight when you get home and lay down on the floor to spend some quality time with your foam roller or lacrosse ball you will know exactly how to make the most out of your self care session. Instead of aimlessly flailing around on the floor you will take at least 20 seconds to work any one area, using your arms for support before putting your full body weight on the roller. Once you have worked up to a good pressure you will engage the tissue your working by including movement and you will begin all of this by rolling the areas surrounding the affected body part first. In case you are more of a visual learner here is a link to a video that demonstrates the above. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kCE59wNku48