During the COVID-19 pandemic massage therapy may or may not be available depending where you live. When services like massage are shut down we can think of alternatives and do the next best thing from our homes. Foam rollers are easy to come by and many people already have one stuck in a closet somewhere. Now is the time to find that foam roller and put it to use.
Foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release, or self-massage, that rids the muscles of adhesions and makes connective tissue more pliable. By foam rolling any given muscle, blood flow increases to that area which allows better mobility. Muscles that have been worked, say from hiking, may feel some soreness the next day so foam rolling helps with recovery of those taxed muscles and may have them ready to use again sooner than if the muscle wasn't rolled.
Fascia is a thin layer of connective tissue covering every muscle. Adhesions may be present and can create points of weakness or susceptibility in the tissue which leads to the muscle not contracting uniformly from end-to-end. This usually leads to pain or discomfort and sometimes even injury. The term myofascial release is referring to work specifically on this facial layer.
In addition to getting fresh blood flow to the area you are rolling, you may be changing the neuro-muscular pathway to the brain which tells this area of the body not to hurt anymore. Foam rolling may fire up your central nervous system which registers and reacts to pain. Like massage, foam rolling stimulates pressure receptors beneath your skin, says Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami. “When you stimulate those pressure receptors, that stimulation increases vagal activity in the brain, which has been linked to relaxation of the nervous system, reduced levels of stress hormones like cortisol and improved pain tolerance,” she explains. In other words, foam rolling may be knocking out stress and quieting your body’s pain-detection centers.
Think of when you bump your shin and automatically rub it with your hand. It feels better after your touch and stimulation of the pain receptors. This is similar to the explanation above. During a massage you may have experienced a painful area as it begins to be worked on. Then after a few minutes of massage it doesn't feel as tender. The same feelings apply to foam rolling. As you roll there may be discomfort to begin but it should diminish within 30-60 seconds. If somethings hurts stop rolling that area or reduce the pressure on the roller.
Some areas of the body are more sensitive than others and won't tolerate as much pressure. Most often these extra tender areas will get better the more often you roll them.
Foam rollers are in every gym and fitness center in many different forms, colors and lengths. There are different densities of rollers along with flat or bumpy surfaces, and rollers with deep grooves and knobs. When beginning it is best to stick with a softer foam that is smooth in appearance with no obvious bumps or grooves on it. These basic foam rollers are often white in color. As your body gets used to foam rolling you may want to advance to a roller with foam that is more dense or has bumps on it.
Besides having a foam roller at home it’s beneficial to use a smaller tool for more specific self-massage in areas that need pointed pressure. Having a tennis ball, lacrosse ball or racket ball are perfect for these more specific releases that the muscle may need. The arch of the feet, the neck muscles at the base of the skull, and the deep muscles in the Glutes are some examples of where these balls may come in handy. Some areas respond better to a softer ball and some areas need a smaller and firmer ball to get into the deeper layers, especially in the forearms. There are specific myofascial release/massage balls on the market and they work great but come with an added cost. One of the above-mentioned balls may work just as well. You can usually find something around the house, golf ball, kids super bouncy ball and even a piece of fruit in a pinch.
Hopefully you can get a massage from a professional but if not, try foam rolling at home and see how alive the muscles feel afterwards. It's almost as good as that post-massage bliss you get after a good massage session.
Until next time
Be fit, be strong, roll away
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