Foam Rolling- Complete Guide
The foam roller is used as a form of myo-fascial release, now being used by recreational athletes and professionals in a wide array of sports. Although largely scientific research has been carried out recently, it is introducing some interesting training and recovery methods.
Myofascia or fascia simply put is a tough but flexible tissue sheath surrounding all of your muscles and bones. The formation of this tissue is much like a net or web. It could be described as a woven suit from head to toe surrounding everything.
In a good state the fascia is relaxed and pliable, able to move without restriction. It helps to keep good posture, range of motion and aids overall musculature strength.
When fascia tightens, thickens or forms ingrained structures, it can create muscles spasms and pains, chronic injuries, reduced flexibility and poor posture. This can be caused by a number of things: inflammation, injury, and poor movement patterns, lack of stretching and movement and repetitive motions.
This is where a foam roller or myo-fascial release comes into play. Using a foam roller is a form of self myo-fascial release, whereas in the past it has been carried out by a massage therapist. The relatively simple tool can be used to apply pressure to tight areas or trigger points, much like a massage. This aims to help recovery by returning the musculature back to a pliable and healthy state.
So do I have tight knotted fascia?
The knotted areas (trigger points) should be easily identified as they cause pain when pressure is applied. As for identifying tightness, you may notice discomfort at normally painless ranges of motion. When you foam roll tight or knotted areas you should feel pain similar to that of stretching, most likely uncomfortable but not unbearable.
More Scientific Findings
Acute Performance Benefits
Recently an increasing number of athletes, runners and gym goers have been using foam rollers as part of a warm up or pre-exercise routine. The rationale for this is somewhat unknown but it could be due to the idea of increase blood supply to the muscle and increase pliability. To date the effects are not conclusive. However, some studies have alluded to increased ROM following an acute bout of foam rolling, others have shown a reduction in perceived fatigue. Still a great deal of studies reveal no significant difference particularly in relation to force output tests, agility tests and speed tests. Further research is needed to justify the use of foam rolling pre-performance or exercise. However, if it is seemingly providing you or your athlete with an enhanced psychological state before exercise, then this may be a beneficial aid.
Coinciding with flexibility, recovery is one of the more prominent reasons people use a foam roller. One of the most significant findings found within literature is the positive effect it has on measures of muscle soreness and tenderness. Additionally it may speed up the process of recovery as measured by muscle function performance indicators such as the vertical jump test, sprint tests and hand grip dynometer strength. Conversely some findings have shown a negative effect on muscle contractile properties. One suggestion for increased recovery is due to enhanced mitochondrial biogenesis and improved blood flow brought about by foam rolling. Given such evidence, the use of foam rolling would be deemed beneficial to recovery from exercise-induced traumas.
Foam rolling has been found to be a supportive technique in increasing ROM in some but not all studies. Following hamstring flexibility test such as the sit and reach test, flexibility has been shown to improve when the result is from a foam rolling intervention. Similar studies have also shown no significant difference between control and intervention groups on the hamstrings. Improvements in flexibility have been attributed to reducing inflammation, reducing muscle soreness and reducing adhesions between layers of fascia.
Clearly not all research is supportive of foam rolling. So, is it worth doing? Given the cost of a foam roller being relatively inexpensive, the ease of use, the benefits it may serve (with no adverse effects), then by all means, if you have time to add it to your routine, it is certainly worth giving it a go.
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