11 Mar FOAM ROLLER TIPS
While lots of people will tell you to foam roller they don’t necessarily advise the best way to do this. My approach at MAMultisport is to give you the biomechanical reasoning and best practice for an activity, in this case using a foam roller and then provide some tangible advice in the form of efficacious hints and tips.
So what’s behind the biomechanics?
The tissues within the body is commonly referred to as the kinetic chain. The kinetic chain is made up of the soft tissue system (muscle, tendon, ligament, and fascia), neural system (nerves and CNS), and articular system (joints).
In order to achieve efficient movement the kinetic chain must work as an integrated functional unit. The kinetic chain is made up of interdependent components, meaning if individual segments do not function efficiently, other segments of the chain must compensate. The effort required to compensate may result in soreness and impaired movement through to chronic inflammation and torn tissues.
So how does foam rollering work?
The act of using roller, foam, rolling pins, hand held roller tools is called Self-Myofascial Release.
According to Clark MA (Integrated Training for the New Millennium. NASM, Thousand Oaks. 2000), the Benefits of Self-Myofascial Release are
- Corrects muscle imbalances
- Improves joint range of motion
- Relieves muscle soreness and joint stress
- Decreases neuromuscular hypertonicity
- Increases extensibility of musculotendinous junction
- Improves neuromuscular efficiency
- Maintains normal functional muscular length
Self-Myofascial Release works by triggering autogenic inhibition of muscle tissue.
Two basic neural receptors are located in skeletal muscle tissue. These receptors are the muscle spindle and the golgi tendon organ. Muscle Spindles are located parallel to the muscle fibers. They record changes in fiber length, and rate of change to the CNS5,9. This triggers the myotatic stretch reflex, which reflexively shortens muscle tissue, alters the normal length-tension relationship, and often induces pain1,2,5. Golgi Tendon Organs (GTO) are located at the musculotendinous junction. They are sensitive to change in tension and rate of tension change2,5,7,8. Stimulation of the GTO’s past a certain threshold inhibits the muscle spindle activity, and decreases muscular tension.
This phenomenon is referred to as autogenic inhibition2,4,7,11. It is said to be “autogenic” because the contracting agonist is inhibited by its own receptors. Reduction in soft-tissue tension decreases pain, restores normal muscle length-tension relationships, and improves function.
(Michael Clark, MS, PT, PES, CSCS and Alan Russell, ATC, NASM-PES, CSCS)
MAMultisports top tips on using the foam roller
If you talk to any physio, osteopath, chiropractor or sports massage specialist they should be letting you to apply pressure in the direction of the heart. This is ultimately to protect the superficial vein structures close to the skin surface.
A best practice is to warm up the area by applying light pressure and rolling more rapidly. As the limb/muscle starts to feel warm you can gradually increase the pressure being applied and slow the motion to really get stuck into the knots in the muscle tissue. Still maintain the maximal force in the direction of the heart.
If you have torn the muscle try and avoid rolling over the torn area, this needs time to heal.
When you find the knobs and sore areas best practice is to roll on to the painful area and hold until the pain starts to subside and the muscle relaxes. This will typically be between 30-60 seconds.
Stopping on the painful areas will stimulate the GTO and autogenically inhibit the muscle. This is the perceived relaxing of the muscle and will improve fascial receptor regulation.
During rolling, especially the legs or the back, it is important to ensure correct postural alignment by engaging the core and stabalising the pelvic and hip complex.
Don’t be afraid to try different shaped rollers, balls or even the rolling pin for those awkward to get to places; however it is important to determine the correct density of the roller or ball to be used.
Too soft and inadequate pressure is applied to the tissue to be treated; too hard/dense a roller may lead to bruising and additional trauma to the tissue. At MAMultisport we recommend you try out a few at your local gym or ask try someone else’s at the end of a training session to find what you are comfortable using.