Foam Rolling is a self-myofascial release (SMR) stretching technique that involves applying a sustained pressure into the myofascial connective tissue. The concepts of myofascial release (MFR) which is a very effective hands-on technique that provides stretching, compression and sustained pressure into restricted areas of fascia (connective tissue) in the body to eliminate pain and restore motion. MFR is a form of structural bodywork, which works on the body as a whole to allow the fascial system to return to its correct position, length and function.
Connective tissue envelops muscle, bone, and organs continuously through many layers. The fascial web connects us holistically in movement and function. There are 10 times as many sensory receptors in your fascial tissues as there are in your muscles (Stillwell 1957). For each spindle, there are about 10 receptors in the surrounding fascia – in the surface epimysium, the tendon and attachment of fascia, the nearby ligaments and superficial layers. (Stecco et al. 2009)
Myofascial release is a safe and effective technique that can be done with a variety of tools including the foam roller, rubber balls, handheld rollers and other assistive devices. The benefits of SMR are correction of muscle imbalances, muscle relaxation, improved joint range of motion, improved neuromuscular efficiency, reduced muscles soreness, and decrease overall stress on the body. Myofascial release focuses on restoring optimal muscle motion and function.
Benefits of SMR:
- Corrective muscle imbalances
- Reduce muscle soreness
- Improve joint range of motion
- Improved neuromuscular efficiency
- Decrease overall stress on the body
How do you decide what foam roller option is the best?
There are multiple things to consider when selecting a foam roller. Firmness, shape, and area of the body that needs release or trigger point work. We advise clients to start slow with a foam roller that has moderate firmness as they gradually get comfortable with the applied pressure they can advance to firmer rollers, balls and myofascial release devices. Each area of the body may require a different ball or roller to release that area layer, hence muscles are different shapes, sizes and vary considerably from person to person. For example, runners and cyclists may need a firmer roller to release deep muscle tension in the legs and gluteal muscles compare to someone who swims and needs deeper work for the back (latissimus dorsi) and the shoulders (deltoids).
Balls of various shapes and sizes are a great tool to massage and stretch localized areas of the body. They can be easily placed in the belly of the muscle or directly on trigger points to release tightness and chronic pain. Balls also come with vibration to add an active release into a specific layer or muscles areas.
Foam Rollers come in various shapes and sizes to roll out, massage and stretch the body. They cover a broader area of the body and are an effect tool for larger muscle groups like the back, legs, and gluteal. We recommend most clients starting here and learning the basic rolling movements for all large muscle groups and then moving to deeper muscles and fascia layers with balls.
Stecco, C., et al. 2009. Mechanics of Crural Fascia: From anatomy to constitutive modelling. Surgical and Radiologic Anatomy, 31 (7), 523-29.
Stillwell, D.L. 1957. Reginal Variations in the Innervation of Deep Fasciae and Aponeuroses. The Anatomical Record, 127 (4), 635-53.
Myers, T.W. 2014. Anatomy Trains: Myofascial Meridians for Manual Movement Therapists. 3rd ed. New York Churchill Livingstone.
Myers, T.W. 2011. Fascial Fitness: Training in Neuromyofascial Web. Idea Fitness Journal, 8 (4), 36-43.