So what’s the point of foam rolling anyway?
It’s a method of self myofascial release. The myofascia is the connective tissue that encases all the muscles in your body.
This tissue also holds the muscle cells together in fascial envelopes. It connects to and is continuous with your tendons.
This tissue has a huge impact on how your body moves. It can be the most restrictive barrier to full, healthy range of motion. For runners, tight fascia can restrict your ability to move in the most optimal way.
How do you know if your tissue needs rolling?
According to Kelly Starrett, DPT, of MobilityWOD, any tissue that is sensitive to pressure needs work. You should not feel pain when your press on a muscle, whether its rolling on a tennis ball or a foam roller.
How does it work?
Scientists believe it works by several mechanisms. One way is by stimulating your GTO’s. That’s the Golgi tendon organs.
These are little organs located in you tendons that form a feedback system between your muscles, fascia, tendons, and nervous system.
When the GTO’s sense pressure on the fascia, they send signals to inhibit, or relax, the muscle and fascia where the pressure is.
Another mechanism is through gamma loop inhibition. Receptors throughout the fascia are responsive to slow, deep, sustained pressure.
When these receptors are stimulated by slow, deep, sustained pressure, they cause a reflex response that inhibits the nerves that cause muscle activation and contraction. Thus the muscle relaxes.
When you foam roll, it can be somewhat painful. The recommended method is to find your tender spots and hold some pressure for 30 seconds of maximal pain tolerance, or 90 seconds of minimal pain tolerance.
Source: The Ultimate Guide to Foam Rolling for Runners
If you sit for long periods of time, you impede the flow of blood and lymph back to the heart. A bit of mild swelling occurs in the ankle which can restrict the range of motion at your ankle joints. This shortens and tightens your calf muscles over time. Foam rolling your calves can restore your muscles and fascia and help you move better.
Lack of movement range at the ankle can affect every part of the body. When ankle motion is lacking the body compensates somewhere, potential the knees and lower back.
This deep hip rotator can restrict your hip mobility when it’s tight. Lack of hip mobility usually will manifest in lower back or knee pain.
These muscles are often tight and short and prone to muscle strains. Rolling these can feel good and allow for better spinal position when bending or lifting.
However, when hamstrings chronically feel tight or strained it’s usually a sign that the hip flexors or quads are tight and need stretching and rolling.
This group, especially the rectus femoris is usually tight and short if you sit for long periods.
Short and tight quads will mess up your movement patterns. They inhibit the gluteal muscles and compromise your spinal stability.
Roll the quads often, especially if you are a desk jockey.
These muscle can tighten up if you sit for long periods in poor posture. Foam rolling these muscles can give you instant relief.
If your upper back always has knots, then posture is your real problem and will probably improve with frequent pectoral stretching.
Contraindications for Self-Myofascial Release
(Don’t use self-myofascial release if you have the following.)
malignancy, goiter (enlarged thyroid), osteoporosis, osteomyelitis(infection of the bone tissue), eczema and other skin lesions, hypersensitive skin conditions, phlebitis (infection of superficial veins), open wounds, cellulitis (infection of the soft tissue), acute rheumatoid arthritis, healing fractures, obstructive edema, blood clot, advanced diabetes, aneurysm, hematoma or systemic or localized infection, anticoagulant therapy, febrile state, bursitis, advanced degenerative changes, sutures, organ failure, congestive heart failure, bleeding disorders
Source: National Academy of Sports Medicine, Essentials of Corrective Exercise Training
Author: Nick Ortego is a health coach specializing in biohacking for runners. He integrates modern methods with the ancient wisdom of yoga to help runners get the most out of every aspect of life. He is the owner of N 2 Action, a wellness studio in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, offering personal training, health coaching, yoga, and fascial stretch therapy.