Foam rolling has become much more popularized in commercial gyms, sporting goods stores and many rehab facilities. But what do they do? Why does it look so painful when people are “rolling out”? This article will help explain these burning questions.
With a quick google search, it is easy to find the many benefits of foam rolling, like:
But what is going on for foam rolling to reap these benefits?
It’s first important to do a quick study on fascia. Fascia is the webbing and casing surrounding every muscle, organ and nerve fiber. The fascial system is highly complex, interwoven and networked with your central nervous system. Current scientific thought tells us when this muscle and fascia get tight, adhesions and trigger points arise. By rolling with deep pressure or massage over these knots, we can smooth out the muscle fibers allowing it to be more relaxed and flexible.
Current research is mixed on the exact mechanisms of what happens when foam rolling. The most likely theory is the pressure from the foam roller causes a neuromuscular response. Our body is a huge sensing organ with millions upon millions of nerve sensing receptors. Rather than any actual structural deformation or changes happening to our fascia and muscles, our body perceives a “releasing” effect through the nerve sensing receptors, and our body loosens up or relaxes in response. There is a mind and body connection through the central nervous system where foam rolling sends a message to the brain, the brain perceives this and acts accordingly to loosen up.
This is important because some common misbeliefs are “harder is better” or “it’s not effective unless it hurts”. Pushing too hard and causing pain can have effects opposite to those we want, causing a guarding effect in the body rather than produce a relaxing or releasing effect like we want. Rolling should be kept to the whole length of muscle tissue and within a pain tolerable level, there should never be long lasting painful effects with foam rolling.
Pick up your own foam roller next time you stop by one of our clinics! For foam rolling exercises/modifications and physical therapy consultations give us a call at (602)808-8989 and don’t forget to Stay in the Game.
-Martin Bui PT, DPT