Foam rollers can help smooth out aches, pains

Foam rolling is a self-myofascial release stretching technique that has been embraced throughout the fitness industry because it is simple, assessable and effective. Foam rollers can be found in almost all gyms, and at sporting goods stores or sporting goods departments because of the demand for the effects that they produce. People using the foam rollers find that they have greater flexibility, better muscle recovery after a workout, improved movement efficiency, and pain reduction of inflamed muscles.

Self-myofascial release can also be done with other pieces of apparatus besides foam rollers such as medicine balls, tennis balls and hand-held rollers. Foam rollers themselves can come in a variety of surface structures from smooth to deeply rutted, as well as a variety of densities and even temperatures.

Whatever roller or other apparatus is used, self-myofascial release focuses on the neural and fascial structures (nerves and the tough connective tissues around muscles) that can be negatively influenced by poor posture, repetitive movements or improper body mechanics.

These mechanically incorrect movements initiate a cycle of inflammation, muscle spasm and the development of soft tissue adhesions that lead to altered neuromuscular control and muscle imbalance. The soft tissue adhesions reduce the elasticity of the soft tissues resulting in what are termed “trigger points” or “knots in the muscle.” Self-myofascial release works on alleviating the adhesions to restore full muscle movement and function.

The benefits of self-myofascial release include correction of muscle imbalances, improved muscle relaxation, improved range of motion around a joint, improved neuromuscular efficiency, reduced muscular soreness and improved recovery, reduction of trigger point sensitivity and pain, and decrease in the overall effects of stress on the body.

Foam rolling should correctly be done before static or dynamic stretching activities in order to improve the muscles’ ability to lengthen during stretching activities. It can also be performed as part of the cool-down after the muscles are tired, so as to speed recovery.

Most clients enjoy the feeling of foam rolling once they have been properly taught how to perform the procedures. However, foam rolling is not appropriate for all clients — including those with congestive heart failure, kidney failure, bleeding disorders or contagious skin diseases, or those with fragile skin or who bruise especially easily. When in doubt, check with your health care provider to assess whether self-myofascial release techniques are appropriate for you.

Generally, clients start by rolling on the foam roller slowly until the most tender spot of the target area is found. Then the client holds on that spot between 30 to 90 seconds until the discomfort is reduced.

During the rolling and holding phase, it is important to maintain core stability by pulling the navel in toward the spine. It is also important to go slowly and discover how slight modifications in the angles or positions on the roller might target different areas of the muscle.

Some areas that benefit greatly from foam rolling are the upper back, the hips, the lats of the back, the calves, the inner upper thigh, the outside upper leg, and the front of the thighs. These muscles tend to get tight or overworked and the roller can help alleviate the soreness and tight spots to restore full function.

Foam rolling only takes a few minutes and yet it can enhance the workout experience and restore freer movement while reducing discomfort. I heartily endorse self-myofascial release as a preliminary exercise to the workout and as a part of the cool-down process. Try it and see how much better you feel and move.

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Jane Riley is a certified nutritional adviser and a certified behavior change specialist. She can be reached at janerileyfitness@gmail.com, (808) 212-8119 and www.janerileyfitness.com

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