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And that's how we roll

And that's how we roll

November 14, 2017


Simone Holderbach, LMT/NKT/CES/P-DTR

Foam rolling is a great self-care tool - when applied correctly. Here are some research-based facts on foam rolling.

Did you know that…

… when you foam roll and feel better it is actually the nervous system that you have influenced. It is unlikely that any changes in the mechanical properties of the tissues have occurred. You have convinced the nervous system to let you move farther, with greater ease or with greater strength. How cool is that!

… typically, the areas that hurt the most when you foam roll are very tight. And they are tight for a reason. They tend to work too hard, while other muscles might not be engaged at all in a certain movement you regularly perform (although they should be and although you think they are - your body is amazing at keeping you going by using helper muscles instead). If you use a general foam rolling routine, make sure that you activate as many muscle groups as possible afterwards. This release/activation sequencing allows for a more permanent correction directly in the motor control center of the brain. Best practice is to release the overworking and activate the related underworking muscle. But generally speaking some brisk walking with nice trunk rotation and generous arm swing is an excellent full body activation.

… if a muscle is not activating properly you do NOT want to foam roll it, although it might feel very tight to you. Foam rolling temporarily down-regulates a muscle (via the nervous system as described above). If you start out with a weak muscle to begin with, you run the risk of destabilizing a joint or making your existing compensation pattern even worse. An example I often see in practice are runners whose glutes do not fire. Yet, they foam roll them all the time because they feel so tight and it feels so good. By inhibiting their glutes even further, though, other structures like the hamstrings or calf muscles have to work harder and the vicious circle begins: low back pain, recurring hamstring strains, an irritated Achilles tendon or plantar fasciitis can occur.

… for a more permanent, tissue-hydrating effect you need to roll extremely slowly! Using continuous motion (approximately 2 mm per breath cycle) provides a squeezing effect that brings fresh bound water into the tissues. This elicits a remodeling of the fascia, changing the actual structure of the fascia over time. That being said, patience is required as that kind of remodeling takes 6-24 months of daily slow-rolling to take full effect! So hang out on the roller while practicing your breathing instead of moving too quickly!

… you cannot stretch the IT band! You could attach the IT band to two trucks going in opposite directions and it won't pull apart. It has too much tensile strength to be able to be mechanically deformed. Also, the pain you feel when foam rolling the IT band often results from nerve compression. Rolling out the ITB puts even more compression on an already compromised area, so please be gentle. Focus on the surrounding musculature instead such as the quads, the hamstrings, the TFL, or the calves.

For an optimal foam rolling routine, you would ideally want to get assessed by a movement professional to figure out which muscles are overworking and which are underworking. Knowing your own body's compensation patterns would give you a tailor-made recipe of what to foam roll and what to exercise afterwards.

Let me know if you need help with that. I'd be happy to evaluate your movement patterns to maximize your success, help you recover faster from working out and help prevent injuries due to muscle imbalances.

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