Meet my foam roller. Some people call it a torture instrument, but I call it my personal massage therapist
Foam rollers come in many shapes, sizes and densities. It is basically, as the name implies, just a roll made out of foam. They’ve grown quite popular over the past couple of years, and are starting to show up in most gyms. But why should you use this weird-looking tool?
When using a foam roller, the goal is to release any tension and tightness in the muscles and the fascia (the connective tissue surrounding the muscles). This is also called soft tissue.
Myofascial trigger points
If you have given or received a massage before, you will probably have come across certain knots, or trigger points as they also are called, in the muscles. Some knots develop suddenly, while others develop over a longer period of time. Exactly why they develop is unknown, but it has something to do with the muscle refusing to relax, sometimes due to overtraining or another injury. What we do know is that these knots can be painful, and it is these points we want to treat.
Two types of trigger points
There are two different kinds of trigger points: Active and latent. Fun fact: Your body has 62o potential trigger points in total.
- Active trigger points: Causes pain while at rest – sometimes the pain will be at the trigger point, but often you will feel the pain elsewhere in the body.
- Latent trigger points: Does not spontaneously cause pain. That means you might not know it exists. Yet it can cause damage by restricting the movement of your muscle or make it weaker. You can only feel the pain from the trigger point when you apply pressure to it – this is why foam rolling can be a bit painful
Releasing trigger points
Remember how I called the foam roller for my personal massage therapist at the intro of this post? That was because professional athletes and other people with a bigger budget would seek help from a massage therapist to release these points. But not everybody can afford to do that – and that’s where the foam roller comes in. It’s both an effective and convenient way to get at least some of the same benefits as you would get from ART (active release techniques) and similar massage techniques.
The benefits of foam rolling is actually a lot of the same as you get from stretching. And like stretching this isn’t just a quick fix – it takes a long time with frequent use to completely feel the how great this is. That does not mean there is not acute benefits; these includes increased blood flow, which can help with speeding up muscle recovery, reduced arterial stiffness and improved vascular endothelial function.
Foam rolling before a workout instead of stretching could also be beneficial, since both increase the joints range of motion. However, unlike stretching foam rolling does not decrease the amount of power the muscle can produce afterwards.
In short, the benefits of foam rolling is
- Improved mobility and range of motion
- Reduction of scar tissue and adhesions
- Decreased tone of overactive muscle
- Improved quality of movement
Foam rolling can be a bit painful, especially when you start out, but in this case a little pain can lead to a lot of good. It’s still important that you listen to your body, and stop if it hurts in a bad way, you still feel pain a while after or start bruising.
Have you ever tried foam rolling? Let me know in the comments below
If you would like, I can also make a guide on how to use a foam roller.