Guest Blogger: Rebecca Lingerfelt, DPT
The foam roller is a great tool for all types of people to relieve muscle tightness and tenderness. You can now buy foam rollers at any medical supply store or website and most sporting goods stores. Foam rollers are a way for you to massage painful or tight muscles by yourself. There are many different types and various uses.
Most foam rollers are three feet long with a six inch diameter, and they are made from from soft density to firm density foam, and even PVC pipe. There are also foam rollers that are twelve inches long or foam roller semi-circles. You can use your foam roller to stretch your calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, iliotibial band, low back, or upper back. The benefit of using a foam roller is to use your body weight on the roll to break up tight muscle or scar tissue by rolling back and forth over a tender area. For more information on the mechanics, please read our earlier blog about Myofascial Release. Because it is a way to massage soft tissue, it is important that the muscles are properly warmed up before using the foam roller. Foam rollers can also be used as an unstable surface to create a more advanced strengthening program. Below is a basic list of stretches and strengthening uses with the foam roller. I encourage you to look online for even more ideas of using your foam roller. Be creative!
Iliotibial band: One of my favorite stretches for my patients. Lie on your side over the foam roll and roll back and forth from your hip to your knee. If you have a tight IT band, this will be tender the first few times. You can also do the same motion on the fronts of your thighs for quadriceps or the backs of thighs for hamstrings.
Piriformis: Cross one foot to the opposite knee and sit on the foam roll. Lean toward the side of the leg that’s crossed and roll up and down.
Thoracic spine: Sit and lean back with your hands behind your head and your middle to upper back resting on the foam roll. Gently arch your back over the foam roll and hold a few seconds. Sit up and try again a little higher or a little lower on your back.
Chest Stretch: This is a good stretch for opening up the front muscles of the body that get really tight when we sit with rounded shoulders and poor posture all day. Lie lengthwise on the foam roll and open your arms wide, resting until you feel a gentle stretch between your shoulders.
Balance: Stand on a foam roller (full or half) with one or two feet, and try to keep your balance for 30 seconds. If standing on foam roller is easy, try doing partial squats and maintaining your balance while standing on the foam roller.
Bridges: Lie on back with feet on foam roller. Lift hips off ground, making sure hips do not sway side to side.
-Dr. Lingerfelt is a Physical Therapist at Boston Sports Medicine