Foam Rolling: My 2 Cents

Many of my long term readers know I’m a massage therapist. Occasionally, I do write about things related to my job. This is one such instance. Today I found myself foam rollering, AGAIN, in my office, and decided it was time to give my 2 cents to help any readers interested. This post is information I regularly share with my clients verbally, and I’m offering to others in need.

First I had to convert my space. My last office had carpeted floors, so I just moved the table over and did my mat work, be it roller or yoga. My current office looks like this:

It’s a concrete floor with lineoleum tiles, and a small area rug for client’s feet. Not exactly kind to knees or elbows. So to adjust, I now do this:

Not only do I move the table over, I put a towel over the rug and a yoga mat over that. It’s much kinder to the joints.

My point here is that before you even begin to attempt foam rollering, you must think of the space you need and the level of comfort your joints want. Considering your own needs first ensures that you not only maximize benefits, but you’re more likely to make it a consistent helpful tool.

2nd is the tool: the foam rollers.

The set I bought for my office came from a store called ‘Five Below’ and both were exactly $5. The set I bought for home was sourced multiple places over time, but none was more than $7. At the office I have the two rolls pictured next. The set for home is 3 rollers: one is very similar to this black one but has mild texture, one is the same size roller with large nubbies that is fairly firm, and the third is another of the turquoise one.

The large roller that is less firm is always your best starting place. It is a dense foam, but will give some with your body weight. It will produce less ouch and is very beneficial if you are very tight, constricted, or it is your first time using a roller.

The one I have at home (same size but with large nubbies) is a slightly more dense foam. It is a great next step because it still gives a nice broad pressure, but the firmness enables a bit deeper pressure. It is great for really getting deep pressure in broad muscles.

The turquoise one is a truly deep tissue roller, and that is why I have one for home and office. It is smaller so it can effectively work into spaces that the other rollers are too big for. It is also firm enough that it will effectively sink through large layers of muscles to get deeper than the other rollers can. It definitely has it’s place and is very helpful, but will produce ouch moments. I have a well-validated high pain-tolerance level according to several other professionals, and the turquoise roller still causes me to swear on occasion. Be aware, you can injure yourself with this roller if you are too aggressive with the movements or if you place the roller in an unsafe position/location. Just be more cautious when you use a roller like this.

Now for the tips:

First, I need you to understand that foam rollers are a tool that is intended to mimic a deep tissue massage. It mimics the same pressure sensation as an elbow and forearm moving through your muscles. So, the same tips that apply to my job, apply to using these.

1) Broader is better.

Broad pressure helps diffuse the sensations, spreading them out through the muscles, and will disarm both the pain response and the tickle response. There is a window of tightness in muscles that causes them to feel tickelish, broad pressure will help reduce the sensation of tickeling.

2) Slower is better. & 3) Work as many directions as possible.

Foam rollering is a focused deep stretch of a muscle or a few muscles. For instance, instead of stretching your entire leg, you can focus on just your outer hamstring. However, because you are stretching one muscle or a small cluster, you will be activating and engaging the fascia.

Fascia is a thin envelope of connective tissue that helps everything in your body stay in it’s rightful place, but in doing it’s job sometimes it too can get bound up, and massage therapists reference this as adhesions. Adhesions can prevent the muscle from moving properly even if the muscle itself has become more pliable. Additionally, fascia often collects these adhesions directionally, so they need to be addressed in multiple directions. The easiest way to determine which directions are still holding adhesions is to apply circular rubbing motions to the area you are working on. If it is completely stretched free you should be able to rub smooth circles clockwise or counter clockwise. Any remaining adhesions will cause a catch sensation that prevents the smooth circular pattern.

Furthermore, the fascia tends to respond very slowly to external input. I can attest to this. In school, I was trained that any movement less than 10 seconds will not engage the fascia properly. We were instructed to stretch the muscles painfully slowly to ensure that the fascia would engage and drop tension. After having practiced massage for almost 13 years, I often will spend a minute or more on one stretch to ensure I am effectively loosening the fascia as well.

So, even though foam rollering can engage the fascia more readily, it takes focused multi-directional slow movements to truly relax the fascia itself. To fully relax any one area you may have to do several stretches in different directions, and each approximately a minute in duration.

4) More Frequently = Less Work to Do

In an ideal world everyone would get a massage weekly. We don’t live in an ideal world, so it becomes up to you to take care of yourself in-between whatever shedule you can manage for paid massages. However, the more frequently you care for yourself and your muscles, the less work you will have to do on each attempt. You may find that when you start foam rollering it takes you several days to fully work everything out. Start with your worst areas, and each time you roller move on to the next worst. As you build repetition, each round of head to toe, will gradually become less time consuming because you are addressing concerns more frequently. Eventually, you may find that you really can spend 60-90 minutes weekly and solve all your concerns. This will in turn help prevent long-term RSI and joint damage, which is good for everyone.

Tricks:

So, I have covered all the important points to note about foam rollering, now let’s discuss common concerns or things people have trouble with.

YouTube is an excellent resource for finding videos showing ways to foam roller a wide array of ways. Just remember my tips from above, some of the fitness gurus tend to roll far faster than I would recommend based on my knowledge of fascia. Faster rolling will still stretch muscles, but may not give you the full relief you seek.

Moving on, one of the biggest concerns clients of mine have is lower leg, otherwise known in common terms as the calf. Many people find that they have recurring difficulty with calf-cramps. Sometimes this is a key sign of magnesium deficiency, and sometimes it is simply because they are not being stretched fully or frequently enough. I have had many clients express frustrations over attempting to roll them, so I decided to take some pictures to show options for addressing those concerns. Each caption will provide a description of what I’m conveying.

The front of the lower leg tends to be very sensitive because it carries so much tension, so it is best to start there. The best way to roll the front of the lower leg is to place both ankles on the roll and engage your core to put your full body weight into balancing and rolling up to the knee.
To get the front outside angle of the lower leg, essentially you place that stretch of your leg on the roller and sit on your foot. Then balance and roll the foam from knee to ankle and back.

The next area of common concer is quads and hamstrings or upper leg. I have many people that roll out and still deal with knee pain or sciatica. So here are tips from the knee to hips and beyond.

Finally, you know where you are tight. It’s all those aches and pains and stiff spots. If you touch a muscle and it feels like a brick or ball under your skin, then it’s tight. Foam rollering can literally address every tight spot from shoulders to feet. This is just a start, and it has amazing benefits if you utilize it regularly. May you find excitement and all the benefits in loosening your body up.

This was a fairly long post, but I hope it helps anyone interested in caring for themselves better. If you have any questions or concerns you are always welcome to email me.

May you have solid self-care and feel better physically. May you know you are doing everything possible to ensure a healthy body. May you know you are strong and flexible and all of your efforts help you live your best life. May you know that God always loves and supports you in all that you do.

Om Shanti

About Treasa Cailleach

I'm a massage therapist working with chiropractic and the elderly; musician, artist, pagan, mom, B of LGBTQ, & polyamorous professional.

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