The foam roller – a love-hate relationship   

Foam rolling and trigger point release is a great adjunct to most exercise programs and it’s become hugely popular over the last decade. Over the years working with athletes in the AFL and Super Rugby, I have seen a huge benefit from the use of some self-management strategies in the preparation for training and games. And I believe that there are a few key reasons that these techniques actually work.

Read on to find out…  

  1. You are being proactive. Research tells us that proactive strategies like foam rolling, triggering and stretching have a greater effect than passive modalities like ultrasound, electrotherapy, cupping etc.

  2. Checking in with your body. Foam rolling and trigger point release gives you an opportunity to check in with your body and find any particular tight or sore areas and give them some much needed extra attention.
  3. Myofascial release. When we trigger point release and foam roll, we are activating little cells in our muscle and fascia that allow the muscle to relax and reduce in tone. This allows the whole muscle to become more extensible and often to able function properly again. Foam rolling and trigger point release has been shown to increase joint range of motion in the short term as well.
  4. Pain relief. Foam rolling has been shown to act as an analgesic for muscular soreness, much like a massage. Before a session, targeting really sore “trigger points” in muscles can decrease pain during the session. Following a session, foam rolling over large areas of muscles (like quads, hamstrings and glutes) can reduce the likelihood of Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness (that pain you get the day after a workout).
  5. Downregulation of the nervous system. Tissue that’s been overactive for too long can fall into a cycle of never properly switching off, leading it to feel like “tight muscle”. Self-myofascial techniques appear to be an input into the nervous system to inhibit muscles that are overactive. It does this by activating the parasympathetic nervous system (the one used for rest and relaxation). In fact, research foam rolling has been shown to also reduce the body’s stress chemical (cortisol) levels.  

The results are in!

A couple of final things on foam rolling. Rolling will always give you better results when done in conjunction with a good stretching and mobility program (1). The self-myofascial release will help you to reduce pain in muscles, improve your joint range of motion, relax your nervous system and identify various areas of your body in need of work. If it doesn’t have this effect, touch base with your Physio or other healthcare professional. 

Stay tuned for some practical roll and release routines.  

Best of luck with your training endeavours.  

 

Mohr, A. R., Long, B. C., & Goad, C. L. (2014). Effect of foam rolling and static stretching on passive hip-flexion range of motion. Journal of sport rehabilitation23(4), 296-299.