Nowadays, foam rollers are a standard item at the gym or training room and they are great tools to use on those needed recovery days. But why they are so beneficial to athletic performance? The key is three letters: SMR or self-myofascial release.
Self-myofascial release is a type of tissue massage that athletes can perform on themselves to help relieve tension in the muscles and trigger points. Trigger points or knots form when abnormal stresses cause the body to protect itself from pain. That commonly occurs when a person sustains an injury like tearing a hamstring or pulling a calf muscle. But these nodules can also occur if a person holds poor posture or repeats the same movements in their sport or at work. These movement patterns lead to muscle imbalances, and the body treats this dysfunction like an injury. It’s important to loosen these knots for proper muscle function and prevent further damage.
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Getting on the floor with a foam roller is like hitting the “reset” button on your muscles. The roller not only helps massage out the knots, the pressure tells the neuromuscular system to relax. There are many areas of the body that can benefit from a little foam roll TLC: the calves, hamstrings, quads, the upper and lower back, IT band, glutes etc. When you find a tender spot on your body, hold the foam roller there for at least 30 seconds to let the muscle loosen a bit. This technique is great to use before static stretching because SMR may allow the muscles to lengthen deeper into the stretch. Foam rolling is useful during warm-ups to increase blood flow throughout the body and for cool-downs to flush out toxin build up in the muscles.
Is it supposed to hurt?
Pain is a good indicator of unhealthy muscle tissue in the body. Foam rolling, albeit uncomfortable, can help relieve that pain just like a normal massage would. However, it is best to consult your physician or physical therapist to know whether it is okay to use SMR on the affected area or if you experience sharp pain when using one.
There are also varying degrees of hardness when it comes to different rollers. Softer ones are good for a general massage and may be a great way to ease into foam rolling (if the massage is too painful the body may just stay tense). Harder foam rollers provide more of a deeper massage. Rollers with nodules on them also provide a deeper massage with more targeted pressure. For the stubborn and hard-to-reach knots, lacrosse balls are another great tool to use for SMR.
Once again consult your physician or physical therapist to learn which tool is best for you.