Story time with Justin: A Foam Rolling Love Affair

Posted: March 1, 2012 in Uncategorized

Yes, it’s true, I love my foam roll. I love it for myself and for my patients. I love it for everyone!! In fact, when I was in student clinic last summer, I recommended so many people purchase a foam roll that my head clinician asked if I was getting a kick back from the company.(I wasn’t getting a kick back, but I totally should have!!)

So rather than sit here and write an essay about the benefits of foam rolling, I figured it would be much more interesting to come up with a few specific instances in my life where foam rolling or any type of self myofacial release would have been (or was) of great benefit. Specifically for this post, I have used athletes as an example but in reality (as I will talk about at the end of the post), this type of modality benefits pretty much everyone. So without further ado…

1) Any athlete who travels- I remember in college, our baseball team would take a trip to Virginia every year to escape the harsh winter of northern New Jersey and play a few games in the…. harsh winter of norther Virginia. Don’t let them fool you, even though Virginia is ‘south’, it is still freezing in the month of March. Anyway, we would sit on the bus for 7 hours, get off the bus, move around a little, and then play a game. It was brutal. Something that would have surely helped us would have been a 10 minute foam rolling session as soon as we got off the bus in order to “wake up” our muscles that had been asleep for the duration of the trip.

Also, excluding the highest level athletes who may travel with a manual therapist (massage, chiropractor, physical therapist, athletic trainer) tournaments are a place where foam rolling should be the norm, not the exception. In college we would take a trip to Florida in order to escape the harsh winter of northern New Jersey only to encounter the harsh winter of… just kidding, the weather in Florida was usually warm.

except when this happens

But, we would play something like 11 games in 10 days or something crazy like that. This was also usually the first time we actually got onto a real baseball field as our home field was covered in snow for our first month of practice. The point is, our bodies were not ready for that type of schedule. Everyone was tight, sore, and generally exhausted. Foam rolling is something that we could have used as a recovery/regeneration/injury prevention tool. People sometimes fail to realize that for northeastern high school and colleges, baseball’s regular season is basically a 2 month sprint (March and April) so any type of early injury could cause an athlete to miss the majority of that year. Even being out of action for 2 weeks could mean missing as much as 1/3 of the games.

2) An injured athlete (who is currently being seen by a manual therapist)- This one seems a little counter-intuitive so let me explain… Ideally, if I was treating an injured athlete, I would like to see them everyday in the early stages or pretty close to it, especially if they are in season. We would not only be doing manual muscle work with him/her (Active Release Technique, trigger point work, Instrument Assisted, etc.) but also appropriate rehab exercises. Seeing as we don’t live in an ideal world, I understand this is not always possible between school, practice, health insurance restrictions, girlfriends, Facebook, Twitter, Glee, Jersey Shore and on and on. Because of this, I  need my athlete to be doing appropriate foam roll work on his/her own so they can continue to make progress outside of the clinic. If someone has some serious soft tissue issues (adhesions, trigger points) treating them 1 or 2 times per week and having them do nothing else for the rest of the week is simply NOT ok.

3) Any athlete involved in a strength and conditioning  program- I was first introduced to the foam roll during my year of prep school at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. Before every workout, out strength coach would roll out these annoying pieces of junk and make us roll around on the floor with them for about 10 minutes. It looked something like this…

At the time, I had no idea why I was doing it, all I knew was that it hurt!! Most of the time we were coming to train right after spending a full day sleeping in class which is just awful for the body in so many ways. What we were doing was nothing more than giving our muscles and fascia a little kick in the bum so they were ready for a workout.

Ok, so now the confession…

The reality of the situation is that I gave three instances in my own life where I felt that using a foam roll would have been (or was) really, really helpful. Athlete or not, a foam roll is a piece of equipment that should literally be in every gym bag. And if you don’t work out put it in your grocery bag, briefcase, suitcase… Just use it!!!! Unless someone has an acute injury (in which they should be evaluated by a health care specialist for the most appropriate treatment) or has problems with ambulation (laying, sitting, etc.), the foam roll is a non-negotiable must have.

Finally, before I go I want to leave you with a bit of theory… When we talk about the foam roll or soft tissue modalities with patients or clients, they often ask if stretching can do the same thing. Or they simply say, “I stretch, shouldn’t that do the same thing as this?” The simple answer is “no.” What I explain to them is the difference between soft tissue (muscles, fascia, ligaments, tendons) quality vs soft tissue length. Stretching can help to improve how long the muscle is. Foam rolling (or any soft tissue modality) will help improve the tone or quality of the soft tissue. The analogy an Active Release Technique instructor gave me once is as follows: Think of healthy soft tissue as a brand new paint brush. It’s soft, smooth, and pliable and generally awesome (ok, I added the last part). Then think of a paint brush after you have used it, not cleaned it, and then let it dry. Now it is hard, grizzly (not sure if that is a word), and not pliable at all. You could take that paint brush and bend the bristles all you want (stretch them) but unless you clean the junk out (foam rolling or any soft tissue technique), there will still be a problem in the area. While not perfect, people seem to understand this because it really drives home the point of “soft tissue quality.”

Here is a video from the guys at Cressey Performance. This is pretty much the exact foam rolling series (and lacrosse ball) I do before each workout and one that almost everyone should incorporate. Remember that this is just a general foam roll series and should be modified for each individual.

  1. Ben says:

    nice post… great analogy and cool link, keep them both coming!

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