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Does foam rolling actually work?

Soft tissue work is imperative for performance. When muscles have the appropriate tonic state (nerve impulses that maintain a normal tonus or level of activity in muscle or other effected organs), they will fire more efficiently. Ideally if we all had the money to we would go and see a trained expert for our soft tissue work on a daily basis. Unfortunately that’s not doable for most of us, but self-care is an important step in the right direction.

Foam rolling and lacrosse balls can break down the soft tissue and fascia (the band of connective tissue) in your muscles. This is where self Myo-fascial release (SMFR) or foam rolling comes into play. SMFR should be performed on a daily basis and a well designed sports performance program will include a well planned SMFR program to aid in recovery and muscle tone.

If you’re waking up stiff then that’s a sign that your fascia (the fibrous tissue surrounding your muscles)- has tightened and that is where your foam roller comes in. Pressure frees up your fascia, stretching and loosening it so that other structures can move more freely.

Why does foam rolling hurt though?

The pain comes from the initial pressure that is undoing the knots and releasing any trigger points in your muscles. A lot of people will tend to avoid using a foam roller or a lacrosse ball because it causes them pain, but surely if there wasn’t an issue that needed tending to within your muscles then it wouldn’t hurt? Once you can get past the initial hell stage of pain that makes you close your eyes and just want to cry (just me..ok then) then the process will slowly become easier and can be added to your daily routine. With regular use, the initial pain should pass, as knots will have less time to build up and therefore wont be as hard to get rid of.

I would recommend using a foam roller on the following areas;

  • Quads

  • Hamstrings

  • Lower back

  • Upper back and lats

  • Calf muscles

  • Sides of legs (IT bands)…WARNING – not to be taken lightly as these can be extremely painful at first.

  • Glutes

  • Forearms (if you can get the angle right)

Lacrosse balls

  • These are best for use underneath the feet- fascia can get extremely built up with small knots in this area due to constant use. Roll the feet over it and break up the tension within the muscle.

  • You can also use the ball for your hands and forearms as it is able to target smaller areas.

  • Glutes- press the ball against a wall using your bum to target painful areas of tension within the glutes.

  • Shoulder blades and upper back- similar to the glutes, press the ball against a wall and move your back around to get rid of the knots in your muscles.


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