lab lounge blog

To Foam Roll or NOT to Foam Roll??

Updated: Sep 22, 2018


Is Foam Rolling going to be the NEW cupping of the 2018 Winter Olympics?


PyeongChang 2018 is on the brain, all over media and everywhere around us. This might remind you of the Summer Olympics of 2016 when Michael Phelps created quite a stir with his use of cupping for his shoulders and back. Athletes are always looking for an advantage on and off their playing field. They can’t always have their team of therapists around them and neither can you! So many people use foam rolling or trigger point balls to help with their pre and post training performance.


What is Foam Rolling? Foam rolling is the use of a stiff, smooth or nubbley foam/padded cylinder to ‘mush’ out soft tissue. It feels very uncomfortable... which makes us feel it might be needed. It definitely does not follow the fail safe adage “if it feels good do it” because it does not feel good, immediately. However, if you give it a try, even every other day for for a few weeks, you’ll notice it hurts less and you tolerate it better.

But does hurting less actually mean that you have caused a beneficial physiologic change? Like increasing range of motion, decreasing tightness and improving performance? You may hear people claim foam rolling reduces fascial (skin-like covering on muscles) restrictions, increases length of muscles, tendons, IT Band etc, improves strength output and the list goes on.


What does the peer-reviewed research say about foam rolling? We’re not sure if foam rolling does cause any of the above claimed physiological changes, but the latest research does tell us that foam rolling is effective in reducing pain perception after post workout soreness or delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) (Romero-Moraleda et al. 2017). Self-massage (assuming foam rolling falls into this category) has also been found to significantly improve stretch tolerance and flexibility when compared to a normal held stretch (Capobianco et al. 2018). Foam rolling even shows decreasing muscle sensitivity through muscle brain pathways, which may explain post-rolling improvements in range of motion and pressure tolerance (Young et al. 2018). However, like anything there is also a whole host of research that disagrees or finds that foam rolling has no significant positive effects.


So how do we decide whether it is right for us or not?  Some examples of situations where foam rolling may be appropriate are:

  1. Do you feel you have more tightness on one side compared to another, in the thigh for example?

  2. Do you have one-sided pain?

  3. Do you get really sore after a workout, in your calves for example, and want something to do after your workout to try and reduce this?


How do you foam roll? You may be among the crowd that looks at the foam roller and has no idea what to do with it, but would like to try without looking like a fool in the process. I have many patients say they have seen people using it in the gym and cast an awkward stare while trying to figure out what they are doing. They have even gone to Youtube for video instruction avoid looking silly. Check out ours below to learn how to roll the calf. Or you may be of the group that has figured out a few things that work for you, but would like to know some new tips and tricks. No matter what group you fall into, below are a few easy to follow instructions to get started.


DOs

  1. ROLL large meaty muscle bellies ​​examples: calves, thighs, glutes, hamstrings

  2. ROLL every other day, no more than 2-5 mins to start

  3. Stay below your shoulders and above belly button






DON'Ts

  1. DO NOT Roll over bones close to the surface examples: shin bones, hip bone, knee cap, elbow, sitting bones

  2. DO NOT roll your LOW BACK

  3. DO NOT roll your tummy or chest


MAIN MESSAGE Try foam rolling every other day or after your workouts for 2-5 minutes for at least 2-3 weeks and notice if you feel better or not. If you don’t then don’t waste your time. If you do, then keep it up and maybe try new areas of the body to foam roll, like the lats or the middle back!

Check out our foam rolling video for how to progress from basic to more advanced calf rolling! As always, if you have any questions comment below or email at socialmedia@labhealth.ca



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