Foam rollers are excellent devices for performing self myofascial release - the process of reducing the tension trapped between the connecting tissues of the body.
Although the technique is not new, the rise in popularity of the foam roller means more and more professional athletes and amateur fitness enthusiasts are performing self myofascial release (SMR) regularly to relieve body pain or discomfort.
Myofascial refers to the connective tissues in the body and the release relates to letting go of the tension trapped in the body part being worked on as a result of posture, trauma or inflammation. Using a foam roller for myofascial release is actually very effective, with the device playing a similar role to the hands of a masseuse.
During a massage pressure is applied to various parts of the body in order to release tension - and this is what a foam roller also does. Being soft yet hard, it can roll over the body, applying the necessary pressure without actually damaging tissues.
To use a foam roller for self myofascial release, a person normally lies on the floor with the roller resting below the body area to be worked on. Then slowly, using the person’s body weight, the device is rolled up and down the body area in order to supply the necessary pressure to relax the tissues. The length of the roller enables various areas of the body to be subjected to equal amounts of pressure.
Because of its versatility, the technique of SMR is often used for physical therapy - there are many scenarios where it can be practised, such as when a person is trying to get back muscle control after an accident.
Let's take a closer look at self myofascial release and what actually goes on below the surface of you skin when you use a roller.
The muscle and connective tissue in our bodies - tendons and ligaments - are really indistinguishable from one another, and called myofascia - myo was an ancient Greek word for muscle.
In recent years medical scientists, using sophisticated research equipment, have concluded that the old biomechanics models used to describe the body as a system of bones and pivot points, are no longer valid.
All our bones and internal organs actually grow with one wrapper of connective tissue - this is called the deep fascia. We use our muscles to move this fascia about in 3D. This is what moves our limbs and makes us capable of incredible manoeuvrability.
Enter the foam roller - a simple, yet very effective tool, which can be used by anyone to treat the muscle and connective tissues. A roller is capable of accomplishing many impressive tasks when used on our bodies. These include:
The first two benefits referred to above - myofascial and trigger point release - are what the majority of foam roller users are hoping to gain. Other key conditions a roller can help correct include postural issues, back pain, post training aches and pains, shin splints and knee injuries.
With self myofascial release, the weight of our bodies pushes the roller into our flesh, effectively stretching of the myofascia (muscle & fascia).
Golgi tendon organs are sensors buried in the connective tissue, at either end of the muscle - these can sense stretch and tell the nervous system to protect the muscle by relaxing and lengthening. This is often referred to as an autogenic response, or inverse stretch-reflex.
A trigger point is where a muscle has gone into a perpetual state of contraction and, may or may not, be tender to touch.
When you first start using a foam roller it's not uncommon to initially feel quite a bit of discomfort and even some pain - beginners to rolling will often feel a sense of alarm about this pain. But his type of pain is often referred to as 'good pain' and will subside as you continue with your rolling sessions.
If you experience significant 'bad' pain you should stop rolling and get some medical advice from a doctor or physical therapist.
This 'good' pain is actually thought to be either a protective mechanism or an efficiency adaptation. Effectively it’s more a chemical imbalance preventing the muscle from relaxing.
As you use continue to use the foam roller the chemicals will start to re-balance. Little structures called myosin heads are allowed to release, and you will soon be able to relax and contract the muscle, and the painful spot will magically disappear.
Foam rollers are wonderful little devices, which are helping thousands of men and women across the UK to successfully practice self massage therapy in their homes or health clubs - these versatile tools look certain to be around for years to come, playing a key 'roll' in our overall fitness and health!