In a fast paced world of instant gratification the foam roller has become a “go to” source for quick myofascial relief. It sometimes is being used in place of massage therapy by everyday folks, amateur athletes, professional athletes, massage therapists, physical therapist and some chiropractors.
Why are foam rollers popular?
The foam roller is cheap and you can pick one up for anywhere from under $10.00 to $85. The foam roller is fast, easy, convenient, and is accessible at any time. They have smooth ones, bumpy ones, ones with nobs, different shape ones and different size ones. You can use it at home, in some work situations, at the gym and even pack one in your suit case. It also usually feels good in most areas for most people and does not take much skill to learn how to use it. You need no one to help you as you can do it yourself.
Why would you foam roll?
The part of the muscle called fascia, which is the soft part of the connective tissue throughout your body, can become affected from over use, lack of use and injury. The effects felt can be mild discomfort or very painful from the fascia becoming dense, hard, sometimes inflamed and restricting range of motion. Users of foam roller feel that symptoms decrease and improve at the most irritated area by using the foam roller and rolling over the problem muscle-spot and maintaining static pressure.
Does foam rolling really work and what are the controversies?
Studies have shown that with proper use and consistency; range of motion was improved without decrease in performance, but had little to no effect on the fascia. Currently there has been much discussion on controversial studies being done on whether or not fascia can be stretched at all. We do know that with consistency it can be softened and made more palpable through manual therapy. It is questionable whether or not medical professionals when putting their patients under anesthesia have been successful at lengthening the fascia. Many Doctors and Surgeons say this is not possible but science is ever changing.
In order to achieve the desired results, the user must roll and create a certain amount of pressure and then stop and keep static pressure at the tender area, and many users fail to do this. They also fail to be consistent in using the roller on a regular basis.
Also, without some understanding of anatomy there can be a lack of results and chances of making certain areas worse. One would need to know for best results which muscles are facilitated, overused, shortened and compressed vs which muscles are weak, possibly over stretched and not firing .
So why can’t foam rolling replace massage therapy?
Foam rolling cannot replace high quality massage therapy or bodywork from a qualified massage therapist or health professional with an in-depth knowledge of the myoskeletal system. Unless the user has a good degree of knowledge and understanding of anatomy they cannot even begin to know why they are having the symptoms or what to do to correct those root issues from recurring. Users may not know the difference between pain and real injuries and can make areas worse when they should be seen by a health professional.
Due to the typical roller normally being wide and not defined, it is generally a broad treatment and not specific. A health care professionally with proper massage training or other medical training can easily get into the areas with their hands or feet for more specific and detailed work. A seasoned therapist will also know the certain areas one should never roll, such as the IT Band but that is for another subject.
Of course, massage therapy is not free and unless you have an unlimited budget you probably cannot go to your massage therapist every day. The foam roller can never take the place and achieve the skills and desired effects of a season well educated, trained and skilled therapist. The best solution one can do with their foam roller is not to chuck it into the garbage but to use it as a temporary solution in-between regular consistent massage therapy treatments. By using a foam roller in conjunction with massage it can increase the longevity of the treatments received and improve one’s range of motion.
So next time you’re seeing your massage therapist or other wellness professional, do talk to them about whether or not to incorporate foam rolling into your routine. Most are trained and have knowledge on how to properly use them and how to combine a roller into your health and wellness regime.