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Home » Blog » Foam Rolling: how to do it properly and when not to do it

Foam Rolling: how to do it properly and when not to do it

How to use the Foam Roller

Let’s face it, foam rolling is not the most pleasant activity you can imagine. So it is even more important that when you use it you use it properly to gain the most benefits

Before/or after a workout.

Performing RM before a workout will assist with warming up the tissue and increase the active range of motion for a particular area.

For example, if you are planning on a run, you will want to be sure to at least foam roll your hamstrings and calves before you start. By increasing blood circulation and flexibility of the dorsal muscle chain you can increase your active range of motion and ease in the stride.

Using a foam roller after a workout can help preserve or maintain flexibility by breaking up tissue adhesions before they settle into the big, painful knots that can restrict your muscles from contracting and relaxing at full capacity.

  • Don’t rush

Even if you just want it to be over with the RM to achieve the full benefits of RM you should roll no faster than 1 inch per second over the muscle group. This gives your neuromuscular system a chance to identify the stimulus from the foam roller. It also gives you the chance to expose the “knots” that you need to work on. Once you find one, hold pressure on it as comfortably as you can for about 30 seconds – or 3-4 deep breaths – then slowly continue to roll the tissue.

  • Be tough but use common sense

You can/should use RM even if your muscles are a bit sore. Unfortunately, this will be painful – however, when you finish your level of soreness should be somewhat diminished. Remember to follow the “pain scale” while using your foam roller, just as you would with cardio or strength training. On a scale from 1 to 10 (1=no pain 10=excruciating), you should not be higher than a 4 – 5. If it is too painful, you will tense up either at the area you are trying to release or in other areas as you try to compensate for the pain.

If it seems foam rolling always has you at a pain level of 5+, try to

  • Use two foam rollers side by side to increase the surface area of contact
  • Use a softer, closed cell foam roller for less intensity on contact
  • Foam roll on a softer surface by putting a mat under you or perform SMR on carpet rather than hard floors
  • Foam roll against the wall rather than on the floor to reduce the amount of weight/pressure placed on the roller
  • Ask a trainer, or a training partner, to roll the area for you as you sit or lie down relaxed
  • Don’t roll over joints.

Keep your knees, elbows, ankles, neck, and other joints safe by avoiding additional pressure or force from the foam roller. For example, when rolling your hamstrings and calves, make sure to stop to reset the roller above and/or below your knee before continuing. Do not treat the back or side of your legs as one unit. Also avoids the area of the trochanteric bursa in the hips

  • Be careful with your neck or lower back.

The middle of your back from top to bottom of your shoulder blades is the safest area of your spine to foam roll while lying down. The thoracic spine is protected by the dense musculature of the latissimus dorsi and rhomboids as well as the skeletal structure of the shoulder blades.

Neck and lower back are most sensitive to injury. The skeletal and muscular anatomy of your neck and low back are not dense enough to support the body’s weight while rolling without the risk of injury. The transverse processes of the vertebrae in the cervical spine as well as the musculature surrounding the neck are small and delicate. While the vertebrae in the lower back are larger, the muscular tissue in this area of the back is mostly myofascia alone. Ask your therapist for advice.

 Contra-indications and Precautions

Like everything, using the Foam Roller is not the answer to all problems. Furthermore in certain conditions at certain stages RM is not always a good idea. There are some contra indications and precautions we should be aware of but it often depends from person and situation and …to common sense.

Here a list of conditions which might need some thinking before using the RM

  • Fresh injuries: inflammation is already at its peak during the first phase of recovery from an injury. Rolling on inflammed regions can worsen the condition
  • Certain stages of neuropathy: Acute neuropathies are very painful. Rolling on an angry nerve is adding fuel to the fire
  • Preghnancy:  During pregnancy, the relaxin hormone is extremely high compared to the ordinary female population. Relaxin acts to relax the joints in the pelvis to prep the mother for labour. Unfortunately, Relaxin can also causes excessive mobility in all joints of the body, contributing to inflammation and pain. Implementing the foam roller on pregnant clients could aggravate their conditions if not used properly.
  • Diabetes: Some people with diabetes have peripheral neuropathy where their extremities have loss sensation due to nerve damage Reduced sensation can diminish proper body feedback during foam rolling, which can lead to injuries. Also diabetic skin is usually more frail and prone to be damaged.
  • Hypertension: there are various causes and severities of hypertension, the majority of which are stress or lifestyle related. Foam rolling is painful and can lead to an increase in blood pressure to a level which is dangerous to an already hypertensive individual.

On the other hand implementing the foam roller in a safe and comfortable manner, releasing the tension of the myofascial system in various part of the body can increase quality of movement in the spine, improve breathing patterns, the range of motion of the shoulder blades, improve head position and decrease cervical discomfort.

In this case, hypertension could be improved or changed through using the foam roller and may not therefore be a contraindication.

  • Osteoporosis:  Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones in the body becomes brittle and prone to fractures. Any bone can be affected by osteoporosis, however, the most common areas include; hip, spine, wrist, ribs, pelvis and upper arm.

Osteoporosis usually has no signs or symptoms until a fracture happens. This is why osteoporosis is often called the “silent disease.” Pressure from foam rolling may be too much for the bone to handle.

Use of the foam roller on this condition would be very limited. If anywhere, you could use a small diameter roller on the calf complex to help release myofascial tension throughout the body.

  • Inflammatory phase of arthritis: Arthritis can flare up with foam rolling if too aggressive or is not done properly.

Summarising: Foam rolling is great! We recommend it to a many of our patients.

However, depending on the conditions, sometimes we recommend against it. If you are not sure if foam rolling is good for you, contact us on info@swissphysio.co.uk or call us on 0191 296 0567 or book an appointment directly via https://swissphysio.co.uk/bookings/