Using The Dreaded Foam Roller

Aug 16, 2011   //   by James Dunne   //   Blog, Injury & Rehab Information  //  16 Comments  //  Affiliate Disclosure  

The Grid Foam RollerAn infamous and highly popular piece of kit which helps to keep runners and triathletes supple and injury free is the dreaded foam roller.

This is a simple piece of kit which enables self myofascial release (a form of self massage) which, although often somewhat uncomfortable (like a deep sports massage), is usually highly effective.

However, this is an extremely versatile piece of kit, which is frequently under-used compared to its full potential.

Here’s a excellent yet simple video from the guys at Cressey Performance demonstrating how the foam roller can be used to great effect all over the body to avoid injury and promote performance.

I’ve recently started using “The Grid“, pictured above (available from Amazon), and have found it to be by far the most effective roller I’ve used to date.

About The Author

James has an academic background in Sport Rehabilitation and a special interest in Applied Biomechanics. He currently coaches a large number of Runners and Triathletes across all levels of ability and performance. He's grown a strong reputation for enabling athletes to improve their running performance and overcome running injuries through improving their Running Technique and developing Running Specific Strength.

 

Facebook Comments

16 Comments

  • Great idea :) I’ve found the Foam Roller really useful for my ITB and calves before but never thought of using it for my upper body and back. This should help my swimming too! Thanks

  • So, how much difference does a piece of foam make to your itb? Foam is, foamy but your itb is like steel.

    • Hi Andrew, thanks for the comment. You’re right in saying that your ITB is like steel. There have been some interesting studies looking at the properties of the ITB, showing that it’s an incredibly strong band of tissue with a very high tensile strength… So actually stretching it is nigh on impossible. In the same way, it’s not the ITB that gets tight (as it’s a non-contractile tissue), tightness in the ITB is created by the muscles that attach to it getting overly tight. Another common problem is when adhesions are created between the ITB and surrounding tissues – preventing it’s mobility through range.

      So, the aim of foam rolling isn’t to stretch the ITB, because that just ain’t gonna happen! More so to release tension and trigger points in attaching and surrounding soft tissues, and promote ITB mobility through breaking down adhesions.

      It usually is a very effective method of managing tightness, but you do have to stop and ask why the tightness is occurring in the first place. Usually it’s as a response to dysfunction elsewhere, often involving weak glutes.

      • Thanks James. I don’t agree that adhesions could be an issue around the ITB, but I agree with what you’re saying at the end: a response to problems elsewhere. And that could be addressed by any amount of things. More likely a change in training than a quick roll around though.
        I’ll confess to having a pet hate of those foam rollers: I see young swimmers using them to ‘get rid of knots’ *before* a race. So they’ve found a reasonably quiet corner, got down on a slippery, unstable floor, and started a care regime for their legs, 15 minutes before a race that involves mainly upper body muscles. Incredible really….
        Cheers

        • I know what you mean re athletes who only foam roll pre competition.Unless they’re doing it on a regular basis and getting the chronic benefit of a regular care/maintenance regiem, any benefit is most likely completely psychological. As you said rolling is definitely a treatment/management tool, not a method of correcting underlying problems which could be wide and varied.

          In terms of the adhesions: myofascial adhesions affecting the ITB are commonly cited as being an issue in fairly recent literature.

          That said, there are often numerous factors affecting the IT Band.

          • That’s a good study with a lot of stuff that is even more popular 7 years on, however it still shows someone rolling about on their ITB. I doubt the same authors would support that now.
            A quick google for ‘myofascial adhesions affecting the ITB’ throws up a lot of hits from chiropractic and massage therapists, but not a lot else. I’m not sure that something that’s anchored through almost it’s entire length will be affected by some muscle adhesions.
            Good stuff.
            Cheers

          • Just 12 months ago Michael Fredericson (lead author of the article in question) published the 2nd Edition of his book “Foam Roller Techniques for Massage, Stretches and Improved Flexibilty“. So I can only assume that he still supports the efficacy of Foam Rolling as a method of self management.

            Anyway, I don’t claim to be a practicing soft tissue therapist. But I know many athletes who rightly or wrongly swear by their foam roller to manage their ITB related issues. I only say “rightly or wrongly” because I’d rather also see them also engaging in regular a rehab/preventative exercise program to address the real muscular causes of ITB tightness!

  • Hi James

    I agree completely that using a foam roller is a great way of maintaining soft tissue health. As a physio I recommend foam roller use almost daily, not only as means of helping alleviate the dreaded ITB symptoms but for soft tissue release all over the body.

    I do stress that foam roller use is not a substitute for stretching or core stability. I try and get people to think of it along the same lines as massage i.e. it can help reduce knots/tightness through local pressure application but as it does not actively stretch the muscle fibres longitudinally it does not increase length – as with active stretching.

    Foam rollers can be used for the calves, hamstrings, quads and deep hip flexors. You can even target the glutes and back! They are also great for using to balance on when doing core stability work- but that’s a whole different kind of pain!

  • I look after athletes (mainly triathletes, runners and cyclists) and recommend the use of foam rollers to many of my patients: they are a great tool to assist training and help with soothing tension in soft tissues (muscles). I find them most effective in the upper back (traps / rhomboids) and also for gluteus/hamstrings.

    Stripping the ITB (through painful deep massage techniques in the area – hardly ever used nowadays) is much less effective than releasing tension in the surrounding muscles (quads, hams, gluteus). So a combination of active stretching, core stability and foam roller exercises can help prevent and rehab the problem. However not everyone is prone to ITB syndrome and there are many activity-related and biomechanics at the root of the condition. So the first step is to get it properly diagnosed and usually this goes hand in hand with looking at running technique (for runners/triathletes) and getting a bike fit (for cyclists/triathletes).

    Something I find funny is when people cause themselves a great amount of pain continuously rolling their ITB, then report an instant relief once they stop. Same analogy as head butting a brick wall: it will feel great when you stop, but any benefit is rather doubtful!

    In terms of foam rollers i love the grid, it’s carbon and hollow so you can stuff clothes into it and it doesn’t take much space in a suitcase, which is great if you travel and train abroad a lot. Hope this helps, happy rolling.

  • James, this is a great article. I have a trigge rpoint foam roller and I absolutely love it. Don’t get me wrong though, at first I hated it. I foam rolled my IT band and it hurt for days. But now I can foam roll without too much discomfort, but it always feel better afterwards. I recommend a foam roller to everybody I talk to about running. It is my absolute favorite piece of gear now. Leon- improve-your-running.com

  • UPDATE: I love my job… always learning!

    Brad Neal has shared some interesting, evidence based thoughts on ITB Syndrome, and particularly the practice of foam rolling the ITB itself.

    Well worth a read before you go hammering your ITB on the roller: http://www.kinetic-revolution.com/itb-or-not-itb-that-is-the-question/

  • He’s performing the rolls very quick. I don’t think this is the best way to do it. Foam rolling should be performed rather slowly to create an affect…?

  • On occasion I am sore after foam rolling is that normal? Quads and hamstrings.

    • It’s hard to gauge exactly what you’re feeling. However, good advice would be not to go so hard on the roller that it leaves you in discomfort after the session.

  • Hi there.

    I want to buy a new foam roller for my partner for his birthday. He’s a triathlete training g for the ironman world championships in kona. There are so many foam rollers out there these days that I’m a bit overwhelmed with choice. What type is best for his ability? I know he wants a firm one – the one he’s currently got was a cheap one which is starting to fall apart & is too soft for him. I don’t know whether to get a plain one or a ridged one & what material it should be made from…

    Any advice would be much appreciated.

    Cheers,

    Elise

  • Is that a tennis ball that he uses as well??

Leave a comment. Ask us a question...