Benefits of using a foam roller is comparable to a deep tissue massage, myofascial release and myofascial trigger point therapy. Myofascial trigger points are taut bands or knots in the muscle tissue that can refer pain to other areas. For example, a trigger point in a gluteal muscle may refer pain down the leg. Trigger points can also limit range-of-motion, inhibit muscle strength and cause muscle fatigue. Regular work can increase flexibility and performance while decreasing muscle tension and pain.
Maximize the effectiveness of the foam roller by incorporating it into your daily stretching routine. Use the roller before and after activity, and always roll before you stretch. This will help to warm up cold muscles and prepare them for deeper stretching.
Make sure you roll on soft tissue and not over joints, ligaments or bony protrusions. Start by placing your body on a roller and slowly roll up and down the muscle. If you find a knot or tight band, hold that spot and try to feel the tissue release and soften underneath the pressure. Take deep breaths and try to keep your body as relaxed as possible.
Use of the foam roller can be painful. If an area is too painful to roll, place your body on the roller for 15 seconds before moving on to the next spot. As the tissue starts to loosen up you should be able to roll with less pain.
For Upper Back (rhomboids, middle trapezius thoracic spine):
Lie with the foam roller under your upper back. Place your hands behind your head with your elbows drawn in slightly toward midline – this allows your shoulder blades to separate.
For Lateral Chest (latissimus dorsi, teres major)
Start lying on your left side with the foam roller below your armpit and positioned perpendicular to your body. Lean back slightly and extend your left arm out with your palm facing forward.
Posterior and Lateral Shoulder (serratus anterior, posterior capsule, lateral and posterior deltoid)
Start side-lying and extend your right arm. Place the palm of your left hand on the roller. Keeping your hips stacked and torso still, push the roller out and back extending and retracting through the shoulder and shoulder blades.
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Reference: Foam Roller Techniques, OPTP, 2008, Michael Fredericson, MD, Terri Lyn S. Yamamoto, PhD, Mark Fadil, CMT, p. 15, 17, 23.