Forget about the latest high tech gadgets and gizmos, the answer to unraveling the knots in your connective tissue could lie in a simple piece of foam. For less than the price of a ‘hands-on’ massage, you can improve their flexibility, function and performance; and reduce injuries.
What’s more, you can do it all in the comfort of your own homes. I’m not suggesting that a foam roller can replace a soft-tissue therapist, but it is an extremely useful adjunct. And where access and/or cost puts regular massage appointments is sometimes out of reach, a foam roller is a pretty good alternative and a lot better than nothing.
The US physiotherapist Mike Clarke is credited with being the first person to introduce the foam roller to a rehab setting for what he called “self myofascial release” (self massage)
Mike Boyle (strength coach http://www.strengthcoach.com/) calls foam rolling “soft tissue work for the masses”. It is a simple tool that helps maintain tissue quality and is becoming increasingly popular, even making its way into ‘mainstream’ health clubs and gyms. To understand how foam rolling works, we need to do a whistle stop tour of fascia and massage.
The word “fascia” means a band or bandage
in Latin. Some argue is just as important as muscle when it comes to optimizing function and performance
There are 3 types of fascia:
1) Superficial: the flexible connective tissue structure that attaches directly underneath the first two layers skin and covers the entire body. Its functions include fat and water storage and the provision of pathways for nerve and blood vessels;
2) Myofascial: a firmer, deeper layer of tough fascial tissue that wraps tightly through and around every muscle, and continues outward to attach to every tendon, ligament and bone. It aids muscle movements and also provides pathways for nerves and blood vessels. Myofascia is described as the bundled together, inseparable muscle tissue (myo-) and its accompanying web of connective tissue (fascia);
3) Subserous: this layer sits between the deep fascia and the membranes lining the cavities of the body, allowing flexibility and movement of the internal organs.
To maintain the condition of fascia is just as important as looking after the other components of the musculoskeletal system, particularly when you consider that fascia connects the whole body in an ‘endless web’.
It is the myofascial – the type that directly affects and influences muscles – that we are most interested in here. When fascia is compromised – through overuse, injury, etc – restrictions may occur in all directions. Bear in mind that the myofascial system is an endless web running from the tip of the toes to the top of the head. In order to relieve these fascial restrictions, biomechanical forces can be applied.
Massage is one strategy, used by many athletes, to relieve fascial restriction through general massage, rolfing, mobilsation, manipulation and stretching.
At its most basic, massage uses a range of manual techniques (effleurage, petrissage, kneading compression, stroking, frictions, tapotement and jostling) to apply pressure to the muscles and tendons.
There are two main benefits:
1) Physical – Increased blood flow, stimulation of the nervous system and reduced tightness in the muscles; and
2) Psychological –controlled arousal prior to competition, increased sense of wellbeing, reduced anxiety and relaxation.
Massage therapy performed by a soft tissue therapist is regarded as the gold standard; but as indicated above, this is not always possible, which is where a foam roller comes into its own.
What is a foam roller?
A foam roller is essentially an extruded hard-celled foam cylinder (something that vaguely resembles those pool noodles that you see kids using at the pool, but fatter and shorter). They come in a range of sizes and densities, from fairly soft, to new highdensity rollers with ‘memory foam’ to retain their shape (particularly useful in heavy-use contexts such as health clubs).
The reported benefits of foam rolling include:
● Increased range of motion
● Reduced muscle soreness
● Relief of joint stress
● Decreased neuromuscular hypertonicity
● Increased extensibility of musculotendinous junction
● Increased neuromuscular efficiency
● Maintenance of normal functional muscular length.
How, What, When and Where!
The beauty of foam rolling is that you can target any soft tissue (musculotendinous) area on the body that is causing problems. You just need to follow these general guidelines for best results:
● For self myofascial release, spend 1 – 2 min per area, as applicable
● For specific trigger points, either hold steady, applying pressure for 30-45 sec, or work over it, rolling back and forth
● Keep the abdominal muscles ‘tight’ during rolling, to provide stability to the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex.
● Remember to breathe slowly, as this will help to reduce any tense reflexes caused by discomfort.
● Complete the self myofascial release exercises once or twice daily, before or after training.
The foam roller can also be used for balance, pilates, strength and core exercises.
Now to do some foam rolling…
Please find the attached foam roller exercises
And if you want to buy one of these you can do so quite cheaply on line at:
Any time you attempt any exercise program at home or at the gym do so with medical clearance. If at anytime you have pain go see your Dr, physiotherapist or other specialist.