In the September 2022 issue of New York Magazine, fashion and kitchenware designer Beverly Nguyen was profiled in an interview that listed the items she could not live without, and one of them was her set of foam rollers. According to Nguyen, foam rollers have become an extension of herself; she was initially skeptical about their effectiveness, but she changed her mind not long after incorporating them into her personal fitness and wellness routines. The way Nguyen explained it, foam rollers have provided her with relief for inexplicable pain she experiences in her neck, calves, and lower back after jogging.
When asked about how she uses foam rollers, Nguyen stated that she follows Pilates routines with them in addition to rolling them over certain muscles she knows will feel uncomfortable after high-impact physical activities such as running outdoors. These are two of the many uses people have given to foam rollers in recent years. If you search for foam rollers on Amazon, you will see hundreds of listings with plenty of buyer reviews; these items have become ubiquitous at gyms, yoga studios, medical offices, spas, and chiropractic clinics. We know millions of Americans like Nguyen have acquired one or more foam rollers, and quite a few professional athletes and physical therapy specialists are enthusiastic about using them.
Chiropractors use foam rollers in clinical settings as devices that can augment therapeutic massage sessions, but they also serve as a physical therapy aid that patients can take home as part of their treatment plan. There are various good reasons foam rollers should be used by anyone interested in musculoskeletal health, personal fitness, and physical relaxation, but deriving the benefits of foam rollers requires proper usage.
Understanding Foam Rollers
Foam rollers were invented in the 1970s by an Israeli engineer who was interested in body mechanics. Moshé Feldenkrais approached musculoskeletal health with a strong focus on classical physics; for example, he stated that a measured amount of evenly distributed force on muscle tissue could stimulate natural contraction and extension. Feldenkrais evaluated chiropractic research studies when coming up with the design of the foam roller, and he considered his work to be more fundamental than the specialized work of chiropractors.
Foam rollers are made of tightly compressed foam; they are of cylindrical shape, and they can be found in a variety of sizes, textures, and colors. Some people say that foam rollers look like pool toys. Depending on how they are marketed, these items may be sold as sporting goods or massage devices; for this reason, rollers can sometimes be found in the bath and spa section of department stores, right next to other massage equipment, but you should not be surprised to find them in the sports and fitness section instead. This is because the combination of foam rolling with Pilates, yoga, and floor calisthenics has become popular in the 21st century.
Technically speaking, foam rollers are massagers; this is how Feldenkrais intended them to be, but he fully approved when fitness enthusiasts incorporated them into their Pilates routines. The bottom line of using foam rollers is to create myofascial release, which is at the heart of chiropractic massage. Massage balls provide similar functionality, albeit on a smaller surface and without exercising. To a great extent, foam rollers are for deep tissue massage, but this does not mean that they should not be used for fitness.
A deep massage can achieve the same myofascial release as a foam rolling session. The main difference between a foam roller and a massage ball is that the rollers are made to perform on your entire body while the massage balls are designed to roll over one or two specific areas. Some of the benefits that foam rollers provide are:
- Decreasing stress and pressure on the joints.
- Relieving tension in the muscles.
- Increasing flexibility.
- Helping to improve the functioning of muscles.
The roller can be used to stretch and massage almost any muscle group and provides excellent relief for your neck, back, hips, knees, and shoulders. Foam rollers are good to use to roll the shoulders, neck, back, hips, and knees. Rollers are great for just about all parts of the body where they can be comfortably used; these items have an excellent track record with runners and for overall fitness, so if you have tight muscles or a stiff body, then you should definitely try a foam roller. The rolling motions help to provide relief, stretch out the muscles and tendons, relieve tension, improve circulation, and reduce the risk of injury.
Foam rollers are a good investment, especially if you are someone who needs to work out and you want to improve your posture; when used correctly, they can help you feel more flexible and mobile, which will enable you to perform the most important movements with maximum control. Foam rollers allow you to move without putting stress on your joints, which can help you avoid injury.
Getting Started With Foam Rolling
While you don’t have to consult a chiropractor before using foam rollers, doing so would be a good idea, especially if you have issues with severe or chronic pain. We are going to assume that you are looking for an effective method to alleviate muscle pain; however, if fitness is what you are looking for, you will still get benefits from foam rolling. In fact, if you are able to exercise with rollers, the outcome is likely to be better, but you still need to focus on using them as they should be used.
As previously mentioned, foam rollers are being sold in many sizes, weights, and textures. Chiropractors can tell you which rollers will work better based on your diagnosis; please do not assume that all rollers are the same. Once you know which type of roller works best for you, you’ll be able to roll out any pain, especially for sore and stiff areas.
The best way to determine which foam roller is right for you is to look at the roller’s size, shape, and density. If you intend to perform foam rolling exercises, consider the size and shape you need to fit in your daily workouts, such as how much space you need to get a workout. Then you can choose the foam roller that is best for your particular lifestyle. For massage therapy purposes, you do not want overly firm rollers that feel uncomfortable when pressure is applied, but you do not want them to be soft as a pillow because the idea is to exert force and pressure on myofascial tissue.
Getting a good feel for a roller should take about five rolls. There are no strict rules, but five rolls should get you a pretty good feel for how much pressure you want to apply to your muscle and how long the area should be rolled for. At this point, you can choose a size based on comfort and pressure. Rollers should be used on each section that is aching or sensitive; if you are looking for general massage and relaxation, it’s okay to just roll with the whole body. The most common types of rollers include:
- Pressing rollers are heavier, and they are mostly used by professional athletes as part of their physical condition and recovery routines.
- Yoga rollers tend to be smaller and lighter; they are often sold as sets complete with travel cases.
- Therapeutic rollers are the kind prescribed by chiropractors, and their structure may feature gel layers for a more effective deep tissue massage.
- Soft rollers are smaller, more affordable, and mostly recommended for relaxing massage instead of exercise.
Once you get your hands on the rollers that are right for you, the next step is to make it a point to use them correctly.
Using Your New Foam Rollers
It does not matter when you choose to roll; some people do it before working out while others do it along with exercising or afterward. We are going to describe the thoracic spinal rolling technique, which is the most commonly performed by chiropractors, but you will be doing it on your own. You want to start by carefully laying down with your upper back on the roller. Get into a sit-up or abdominal crunch position with your fingers interlaced behind the head.
With your feet flat on the ground, raise your hips high and tighten your abdominal muscles as much as you can. Once you feel that your core is firm and your back is naturally aligned, pull your shoulders up and start rolling back until the roller is positioned on your lower back. Try this motion slowly a couple of times until it feels comfortable.
You should not get into repetitive rolling until you are sure your back feels good through the roll. The foremost goal is to massage as much myofascial tissue as possible, so you will want to concentrate on smooth and slower rolls. To turn this roll into an exercise, focus on flexing your abdominal muscles as you slide on the foam roller; the goal is to keep them tight the entire time so that they can alleviate back pressure. You can turn this roll into an exercise by going a bit faster and repeating for three sets of three, but be sure to do some stretching in between sets.