Many people use foam rollers, trigger point balls and other tools to release tight or painful muscles. These tools are sometimes used over and over again without much long-term change or improvements. The aim of using these tools is to ‘release’ connective tissue or break up adhesions within the muscles that may be causing pain or inflexibility. Interestingly, the research argues that we don’t actually break up adhesions or scar tissue, but rather we alter the sensation of the area we are releasing, and this change in sensation changes the perception of how that area feels and functions (1). A large pitfall for a lot of people who use the foam roller or trigger point ball as a stand-alone treatment is that the tissues will have a tendency to regress back to their original ‘tight’ feeling. So how do we best avoid those muscles tightening up again?
- Don’t spend to much time rolling out and releasing. As the changes we feel are mainly due to a neurological change and not breaking down of scar tissue, you probably don’t need to spend more then 1-2 minutes rolling and releasing.
- Reload the area after you have released the muscle. You have given yourself a window of opportunity to make a change and you should use it. For example, if you have just released your quad muscles, go and do some squats, if you have released your foot or calf, go and do some calf raises or skipping.
- Fascia and connective tissue changes and adapts through movement and exercise. Although a foam roller may give us pain relief, it is only limited. The real, long term changes happen through good movement and good training.
The foam roller has its place in rehab and recovery, however, without following up your rolling session with some strength and stability work you are missing out the real potential benefit. Give it a try next time you do some release work and see what happens.
- Chaudhry, H., Schleip, R., Ji, Z., Bukiet, B., Maney, M., & Findley, T. (2008). Three-dimensional mathematical model for deformation of human fasciae in manual therapy. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 108(8), 379-390.