If you’ve visited a gym, walked through a sports store, or watched fitness videos online, you’ve probably seen an image of someone using a foam roller.

Are foam rollers beneficial recovery tools for muscles?

Some studies have found foam rollers relax muscles and help prevent delayed onset muscle soreness.

If you’re a serious athlete, a weekend warrior, or an occasional fitness buff, you’ve probably experienced the condition first-hand.

According to the National Library of Medicine, delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS describes the mild to severe muscle tenderness people feel after a new or particularly strenuous workout.

Healthcare providers can diagnose DOMS but do not always know the cause of it. Some theories suggest:

  • Adhesions of the myofascia, the thin connective tissue covering the muscles
  • Lactic acid build-up
  • Muscle spasms
  • Inflammation of the muscles of myofascia, or
  • The release of enzymes

No matter the cause of the soreness, foam rollers may help stimulate and relax the muscles.

What are the benefits of foam rolling?

Foam rolling can help the muscles in three fundamental ways it can help:

  • Excrete the lactic acid, which builds up during exercise,
  • Release adhesions that may form between the muscles and the myofascia, and,
  • Increase the blood flow to the muscles, which speeds healing.

When should you use foam rolling?

Some people use foam rollers to warm muscles before a workout. Others use the self-massage technique after exercise to reduce pain and minimize delayed onset muscle soreness. Foam rolling can be used throughout the day to relieve muscle pain and stiffness.

Is there a wrong way to use a foam roller?

Using a roller too often or incorrectly can cause more harm than good. Here are five tips to keep in mind when using a foam roller.

  • Always use proper form and posture.
  • Use the right density roller to match your fitness. Use a soft to medium density roller if you are beginning or are at an average fitness level. If you work out often and categorize your fitness level as high, use a roller with more density.
  • Don’t use a roller on your spine. See your physical therapist for deep-tissue massage on your back. This type of massage is best done by a professional to avoid stressing the vertebrae and spinal cord.
  • Take it slow and easy. Roll slowly as you breathe deeply to deliver as much oxygen-rich blood to the muscles as possible.
  • Roll for just 30 seconds to a minute on each area once per day. Don’t over roll your muscles or you may cause injury.

What is the best type of foam roller?

Most foam rollers are long, cylindrical tubes in a variety of densities and textures.

A person’s body structure, physical fitness, and soreness level will determine the best type of roller to use. Ask your orthopedic provider or physical therapist which one is best for you.

Here are a few things to remember when buying a foam roller.

Density: A person new to foam rolling may want to start with a medium density roller. This will allow the muscles to adjust to the process. Using a foam roller that is too firm, too fast may cause bruising and muscle injury. A roller that is too soft is not effective for muscle massage.

Texture: A smooth roller applies uniform pressure to the muscles. It’s the best option for beginners. Added pressure points on a textured roller may loosen extremely tight muscles.

Size: Length and thickness matter when using a foam roller. Thicker rollers give muscles a gentle massage. People who have used foam rollers before may want to choose a three-or-four-inch diameter roller for targeted pressure.

Foam rollers are available in 3- to 36-inch lengths. The longer rollers allow for a full-body massage. The shorter versions are great for targeting specific muscle groups.

If you would like to incorporate a foam roller into your routine, talk to your orthopedic provider. A physical therapist or sports medicine specialist can offer guidance about the best exercises and techniques for your condition.

To make an appointment with one of Bone & Joint’s orthopedic providers, call 800-445-6442.

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