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The Benefits of Foam Rolling

When was the last time you ate an orange? Now imagine trying to eat an orange without the skin and peel. Our bodies have a similar structure to an orange, with muscles, bones, nerves, organs, and blood vessels surrounded by a network of collagenous-based soft tissue called fascia. Fascia is similar to the skin of an orange because it maintains the shape and composition of everything within the body. When we exercise a lot and break down our bodies, our muscles and fascia become damaged while forming scar tissue.

Scarring can be caused by exercise, lack of activity, or chronic stress. Scarring thickens the fascia fibers surrounding muscle as an attempt to protect the muscles within. Thickened fascia causes rigidity and compresses muscles and nerves. This can lead to impingement and pain. Among the damaged fibers, adhesions are formed when layers of connective tissue become bound together. Adhesions can severely limit range of motion which can lead to a host of new issues.

To reduce adhesions and tightness, foam rolling can be used to improve the health of your fascia. Foam rolling is a form of Self Myofascial Release (SMR) used to improve range of motion and blood flow to muscles while improving tissue quality. To foam roll, place desired amount of body weight onto the foam roller and slowly move upward and downward on the area. When you find a trigger point (area with tension), hold sustained pressure for 30-45 seconds or until you feel a release in tension. If no release is felt, resume rolling and come back to the trigger point later. When foam rolling, your goal is to apply pressure to your muscles and fascia without placing excessive amounts of pressure. Remember not to roll on your bones or joints as that will only cause damage and bruising.

The type of foam roller will have a direct correlation to the effectiveness it provides you. Having an optimal density will allow for greater myofascial release without damage to the fascia. When beginning to foam roll, you should start with a lower density foam roller and eventually work your way up as your tissue quality improves. If your foam roller is too soft, you will not get enough tissue massage. On the other hand, if it is too hard, you may incur bruising and tissue damage. Other options are things such as a lacrosse ball or tennis ball which can be used in the same manner to target smaller, harder to reach areas. Massage sticks are also made to add extra pressure in areas that are hard to place pressure on.

Using any of these devices for SMR can be beneficial to your health, causing improved blood flow and range of motion through a reduction in adhesions. When you think of why foam rolling is beneficial for you, imagine you were the owner of a fruit stand only selling moldy oranges. If you could transform these oranges into crisp, bright mandarins with just a few minutes of work, what would you do?


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