The Humble Foam Roller

Soft tissue injury is a common presentation to the sports injury clinic, with studies reporting high percentages of athletic injury involving soft tissue. Dysfunction in the musculoskeletal system has been though to be initiated by acute and chronic mechanisms including:

  • Physical Trauma
  • Overuse
  • Structural Imbalance
  • Inflammatory processes

Soft tissue injury can lead to pain and dysfunction in the remaining tissues if not rehabilitated correctly. The kinetic chain consists of the soft tissue system (muscle, tendon, ligament and fascia), neural system (nerves and central nervous system) and the articular system (joints). The musculoskeletal system works as an amalgamated functional unit, where all components work interdependently.

When one of the systems fails to work then the other systems must compensate. This may lead to overload of the tissues, fatigue and individuals may develop faulty movement patterns. Movements are learned by the nervous system, whether these are correct or not, faulty movement can occur due to poor motor control, these faulty patterns are then learned by the central nervous system. Implications exist when the body is unable to compensate for these faults and symptoms finally surface. This then initiates the cumulative injury cycle (CIC) in which the body lays down dense thick scar tissue, which causes adhesions within the tissue, thus limiting free functional movement.

Common management strategies for treating Myofascial restrictions include sports massage, where various techniques can prevent muscle damage, enhance muscle relaxation, reduce muscle tension, reduce muscle soreness and improve performance. While there are many reported benefits to sports massage, the cost of such therapy can often be too much for some individuals. Recently self-Myofascial release with a foam roller has received a lot of attention. A foam roller is simply a cylindrical piece of extruded hard-celled foam, which typically comes in various densities. Initially introduced as an acupressure application method, it has recently been used for self-massage, adopting long sweeping strokes along the length of the muscle. Individuals would search along the muscle for tender areas or trigger points and use the roller to decrease such issues.

Below indicates some of the important questions regarding the use of the foam roller, some videos of correct technique and purchase options.

Uses

  • Injury prevention
  • Performance enhancement
  • Self massage

Benefits of Foam Rolling

  • Correction of muscle imbalances
  • Increases in joint range of motion
  • Decreased muscle soreness
  • Relieves Joint Stress
  • Decreased neuromuscular hypertonicity (Increased tension in the muscles which can impair function)
  • Increased extensibility of the musculotendinous junction
  • Increased neuromuscular efficiency
  • Maintenance of normal functional muscular length

Pros

  • Inexpensive price range from £15-£43 (Foam Rollers can be purchased at Run 4 It With stores in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Inverness, Dundee and Bridge of Allen).
  • Can be done at home
  • Intensity controlled by the individual
  • Can be completed daily
  • Can benefit the development of core stability, which in combination with enhances mobility will improve overall performance.

Cons

  • Can’t replace hands on sports massage, the roller is unable to think and react like a therapist can.
  • Potential to cause further damage if used too often and too deeply, the roller should be uncomfortable, however not enough to cause bruising and further injury.

Considerations

The use of a foam roller should be hard work, and is often painful, however the pain should not cause injury and you should not incur bruising. The patient can control the depth and intensity. Ensure you start light and as you warm up you can deepen the pressure.

Choosing a Foam Roller

Foam rollers come in various lengths and densities, the traditional hard foam roller is suitable for beginners and individuals with low muscle mass/density, this will prevent any likelihood if injury. The more complex rollers i.e. the grid is suitable for experienced exercisers, including individuals who have used foam rollers in the past and are looking for that extra challenge. The more dense the roller the more it is suitable to individuals with higher muscle mass and body density.

For further information on the use of the foam roller and purchasing options please don’t hesitate to contact staff at Run 4 It or Sports Injury Scotland.