Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Foam Rollers and Myofascial Release... What On Earth?

In the last few years, you might have noticed these cylindrical foam thingies gathering in the corners of the stretching areas at gyms. Occasionally a personal trainer will even make someone roll on top of them. Have you ever wondered what they are for and whether they are just a passing fad?

Well, here’s the low down.

It is all to do with myofascial release. 

Myofacial release, you ask?

It’s a type of soft tissue therapy, which relaxes contracted muscles, increases circulation and lymphatic drainage and stimulating the stretch reflect muscle.


It’s the same sort of benefit you will get from a sports massage, but a lot cheaper and you are in control (so might not make you scream as much.) The roller stretches out the muscles and tendons, while also breaking up trigger points.

It is also seen as more beneficial for flexibility than just stretching, which only lengthens out the muscles without dealing with any tension points.

Now, for the more jargon-y explanation:

The myofascia system is the combination of the muscles and the superficial fascia (ie. soft connective tissue that wraps and connects the muscles, bones, nerves and blood vessels of the body). (There are a couple of different types of fascia, but we are talking about superficial fascia here.). For various reasons, the fascia and underlying muscle tissue can become stuck together (soft tissue adhesion), with the result of restricted muscle movement and soreness.

By sustained pressure on the soft tissue with traction to the fascia, the fascia can be softened and lengthened, breaking down the adhesions. Like when a massage therapist puts pressure into an area and then rubs it along. 

So, how do you use the foam roller?

Slow and pressure are the two concepts you want to keep in mind.

Basically, you position yourself on the foam roller and roll along the muscle at a slow pace with some of your body weight adding pressure. Then you stop and increase the weight at the most tender spots. Once the pain starts to reduce, roll on. The eventual goal is to have no sore or painful spots.

It is recommended that you start at the point closest to your centre, and roll outwards. For example, with your hamstrings, start rolling out just the top area nearest your butt and slowly work down towards the knees.

Each muscle should get about 1-2 minutes of rolling. So, a good session can take between 30-40 minutes, and is perfect for doing in front of the TV if you want to invest some money in buying your own roller. Or it is also a great time to catch up and chat with friends before or after a work out. As there is less risk of injury compared to stretching, it is great to do any time.

Below is a great video for showing you all the different muscles you can work with. Though I recommend doing it just slightly slower, and pausing where you personally feel a tension spot.

It's only 5 minutes, so take the time to watch and the go and practice!


Great for IT band issues and shin splits, as well as improving flexibility. It can get rid of tension spots and soreness, and prevents these from developing. Great for people that suffer backpain, or problems with tightness in their muscles.

However, like stretching, it doesn’t happen overnight. We are in it for the long term improvement.


It seems to be a very cheap piece of equipment, that has little risk of injury, and can have great benefits if you use it regularly. So, not much to lose.

So, no need to be afraid of those rollers ganging up on you. But always ask a trainer for help if you think you might be doing it wrong. Also, it does take some practice balancing on top of the roller without falling off, so maybe practice when not cute guys are watching.

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