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Foam rolling 101

Achy, sore muscles? While there’s nothing quite like a treatment from a registered massage therapist to soothe and restore, foam rolling is a pretty close second!

Foam rolling is a type of self-massage or self-myofascial release, where you apply pressure to certain parts of the body and massage the area by rolling the foam tool. It offers many of the same benefits as massage, including:

Improved flexibility and range of motion. It can help release muscle tightness and adhesions in the body, breaking up trigger points (aka knots) and scar tissue. Because you can target specific muscle groups and work the roller into any tight muscles, foam rolling is great for increasing flexibility and improving range of motion.

Pain reduction. Ever experience muscle soreness after a workout? That’s because of the buildup of lactic acid. Add in a bit of inflammation and it’s a recipe for pain! Foam rolling can help promote blood flow and circulation to reduce pain and aid in faster recovery after physical activity.

Improved muscle function. With regular use, foam rollers will improve your overall muscle function, which in turn will improve your stamina and strength. It also assists in maintaining proper muscle length and tension, reducing the risk of strains and imbalances that may lead to injuries.

Stress relief. Similar to massage, the feeling of rolling can have a soothing, relaxing effect by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system.

How to use a foam roller

There are a number of types of rollers available, from smooth to textured, firm to soft, tubes to circular. While most people start with a lightweight, smooth roller, try out a few types to see what works best for you.

Note: Always consult with a health-care professional before using one.

It’s important to use the proper technique with a foam roller. Check out beginner foam-rolling videos online to help you learn the basics, and how to use it on different parts of the body. You can even sign up for foam-rolling classes at gyms and community centres.

Start with light pressure and build up from there. Slowly work on each muscle group for a minute or two, avoiding the joints. It may be painful, particularly if your muscles are tight. If it’s too painful, adjust the pressure and work around the spot instead of directly on it. Also, make sure to drink lots of water, since you’ll be flushing out the muscles!

Pro tip: Try adding the roller to your warm-up or cool-down before or after your workout. Follow up your workout and rolling with some gentle stretching.

One of the most popular ways to use foam rollers is to ease tension in the back. Here is an easy exercise for lower back pain, courtesy of Healthline. Turn your roller so it’s vertical (in line with your spine) and slowly roll it from side to side, still in line with your spine. Don’t keep it horizontal, which can cause you to arch and strain your back.

Though it’s not a replacement for massage, foam-rolling can be a great addition to your workouts or wellness routines.

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