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If you or someone you care about works out regularly or has chronic pain in their muscles or joints, it may make sense to investigate foam rollers and foam roller exercises. Foam rollers are simple therapy and fitness tools that can be used in a wide variety of ways. While they’ve been used in clinical settings (think chiropractic and physical therapy) for quite some time now, they’ve also found their way into many fitness clubs and training facilities and are starting to become popular in homes as well.

Foam rollers can be purchased either online or at any number of sporting goods stores or discount retailers such as Target and Walmart. Entry-level foam rollers are generally inexpensive and cost between $25 and $50. As with most things, prices go up from there and can vary depending on the quality of materials used in manufacture and the complexity of the design—there’s actually more variety out there than you might expect. Some rollers also come with a manual or DVD to get you started.

But if you do decide to invest in a foam roller for use at home, it’s a good idea to have the right expectations and to learn to use it properly. That’s where this article comes in.

The principles and practices of foam rolling have evolved over the years as chiropractors, physical therapists, trainers and athletes have gained more experience with this simple (but very flexible) tool. What began as a kind of simple acupressure technique (place the roll on the ground and use your body’s weight to apply pressure to sore spots) has become a technique for “self-massage” or “self-myofascial release”. It has also become a technique for targeted toning and strengthening exercises.

As a form of self-massage, foam rolling helps to release tension, relieve pain and improve circulation in different muscle groups. Some practitioners believe it’s particularly helpful for addressing “trigger points”—specific knots in the muscle or fascia (dense connective tissue that surrounds muscles and other structures)—that may cause localized or referred pain and limit mobility. Part of the beauty of foam rollers is that they can be used to apply either long, sweeping strokes or more focused pressure on smaller areas. Here’s one simple example that can be helpful for people with some types of back pain and for people who want to improve their posture:

Start by sitting on the floor and lying back so that the foam roller is positioned perpendicular to your body just below your shoulder blades. Lift up your hips and roll back towards your shoulders so that the roller applies pressure down the length of your upper back. Then roll forward again towards your feet to return to your starting position. Roll through the area of your thoracic spin at least four times to complete the exercise. Remember—don’t apply any pressure to your neck area during this exercise!

Using the foam roller therapeutically is certainly helpful, but it can also be a valuable addition to your strength training program as part of your warm-up and cool-down routines. There are also many, many foam roller exercises designed to target specific areas of the body for toning. Thanks to celebs like Kim Kardashian, the gluteus maximus is now a favorite target among women in much the same way that thighs and abs once were (Remember the “Thigh Master” and the Ten-Minute Abs workout?). Here’s a simple exercise:

Start by sitting on the foam roller with both legs out in front of you and knees bent. Next, just roll your hips forward and backward. For a more intense workout, put most or all of your weight on one side and perform the same basic motion. This exercise isn’t just about appearance. It helps to activate your glutes, strengthening the muscles and (incidentally) improving your shape. For athletes in some sports, particularly those who run, this activation can be especially important. The glutes are often neglected in workout routines, which can lead to a biomechanical imbalance and an over-reliance on quadriceps. Keeping the glutes strong and engaged correctly can help improve performance and reduce the risk of injury.

As chiropractic physicians, we’re experts in diagnosing and treating musculoskeletal and neurological problems. But we also work closely with our patients to prevent injuries, improve their overall health and enhance performance. With all of these goals in mind, a foam roller can be a very useful tool in a thoughtfully-designed stretching and exercise program. If you’d like to learn more, just call or visit our office today!


Additional Resources

Foam Roller in Physical Therapy Exercise Prescription. http://physicaltherapyweb.com/foam-roller-physical-therapy-exercise-prescription/

Foam Rolling—Applying the Technique of Self-Myofascial Release. http://blog.nasm.org/training-benefits/foam-rolling-applying-the-technique-of-self-myofascial-release/

What Is a Foam Roller, How Do I Use It, and Why Does It Hurt? http://breakingmuscle.com/mobility-recovery/what-is-a-foam-roller-how-do-i-use-it-and-why-does-it-hurt/

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