By Bill Bolster / January 09, 2017
I don’t want to call foam rolling the “latest trend” in the fitness and “self-rehab” world, but the attention it’s getting does seem to be at an all-time high. While there are undoubtedly health benefits to foam rolling, it seems there is a general misconception about how to use the tool.
The first question you should be asking yourself when foam rolling is, “What is my goal?”. If your goal is simple ischemic trigger point therapy, then I would advise you to keep foam rolling the traditional way. Find a spot that’s tender and uncomfortable, apply pressure through the foam roller for roughly 10-15 seconds, and move onto the next point. However, you should know these trigger points are present for a reason. These hypertonic and hyperirritable bands of muscle or fascia are often a defense mechanism to restrict motion, for fear of injury. Did you ever notice that your tender spots are usually in the same spot? This is a good indicator that the cause of your problems isn’t being fixed.
If you want to move better (and I’m assuming you do) your tissues must move better. Simply compressing the tissue with a foam roller won’t achieve that. Foam rolling with the technique I just described does only that, tissue compression. If we want to release tissue (and we do), we must create friction between the different tissue layers while they are compressed. It’s between the superficial (closer to the skin) and deep (closer to the bone) layers of tissue in which fibrotic tissue begins to accumulate, causing impaired tissue movement and discomfort. It’s the impaired tissue movement especially that can cause long term problems. Aberrant tension leads to a joint malposition, increased likelihood of injury, and a happy medium for joint degeneration to begin.
Am I saying that foam rolling will single handedly prevent osteoarthritis or joint degeneration? No, of course not, but it’s another tool we can use to help us move better (when done properly), which leads to healthier joints.
So how do we release tissue while foam rolling?
As I mentioned, we must create friction between the tissue layers while they are under compression. Being that the quadriceps often elicit some of the most tender points throughout the musculoskeletal system, I will use this example. Roll onto the quadriceps and find a point you deem tender. Sit on this point while flexing and extending the knee repeatedly. Not only is the tissue compressed, but the superficial and deep layers are also rubbing against one another. It’s the friction between these two layers that will help remodel the disorganized and dysfunctional fascia. The timing of this exercise is also important. Stay on the point/area for at least 2 minutes, the stimulus must be maintained for sufficient time or lasting change will not take place. Use the video below as a template.
My advice would be to use your trigger points as an audit. You now know why they exist. Make a mental note of where they are. Do your myofascial release, rehab, exercise, and then revisit the sites of your original trigger points. Have they improved? If so, congratulations, you’re on the right track. If not, it’s time to change up your plan of attack.
Note: Use a lacrosse ball to target more specific areas and smaller muscle groups, compared to a foam roller.