Sunday, November 20, 2011

Foam Rollers: Help for Sore Muscles

One of the more discouraging parts of clothes shopping used to be looking in the mirror at my back and seeing the rolls of flesh around the band and straps of my bra.   People tend to exercise the parts of the body they see every day in the mirror; this means that back muscles are often neglected.  Trainers Anne Tierney and Steve Sierra first pointed out that my “posterior chain” needed work, so I starting focusing more on my back and shoulders.  For this part of the body, some of the best exercises are the old fashioned ones:  push-ups (on your knees if you can’t do a regular one) and pull-ups.  I still can’t do a real pull-up but I have a device like a large rubber band that lets me do an assisted one.

Anne also suggested that I start using a foam roller, a styrofoam cylinder that can be rolled under the body.   The most helpful discussion I’ve found on foam rollers is “FoamRoller Exercises for Easing Tight Muscles” by Elizabeth Quinn.  Here is a summary statement from that article.  “The foam roller not only stretches muscles and tendons but it also breaks down soft tissue adhesions and scar tissue. By using your own body weight and a cylindrical foam roller you can perform a self-massage or myofascial release, break up trigger points, and soothe tight fascia while increasing blood flow and circulation to the soft tissues.”  On any day when I do a workout I spend some time in the evening stretching and using a foam roller.  If I do that, I avoid the muscle soreness that can interfere with my sleep and bother me the next day.  Using a foam roller was uncomfortable for me at first because some areas, like the inner and outer thigh, were very sensitive, but with continued used use the soreness gradually diminished

An interesting thing happened after I started using the foam roller.  I noticed it one time when we went to Italy.  Italian people have many wonderful ideas and a few bad ones.  One of the bad ones is that hard beds are healthy for the back.  In Italy it is virtually impossible to find a bed that is not rock-hard.  I normally sleep on my back and, when I slept on one of these beds, would wake up in excruciating pain.  This was not arthritis but pain in the soft tissue, more like muscle soreness, and it would gradually dissipate during the day.  We made a trip to Italy at some point after I started using the foam roller and I had little or no trouble with the hard beds.  Perhaps there had been soft tissue adhesions and scar tissue that the roller broke down; perhaps it simply improved the circulation in my back.  Either way, I appreciate the change.   The rolls of flesh around my bra are pretty much gone too, possibly a combination of working the back muscles more and using the roller.

Update 9/12/2014:
It's always good to learn that there is scientific support for something I'm doing already, as in this article in the Wall Street Journal, "Can Foam Rollers Help Relieve Muscle Pain?" "Foam-roller therapy at home, often called self-myofascial release, has been shown in several small recent studies to improve range of motion in the knee and hip, and to ease muscle soreness after exercise." According to an article published in The Journal of Sport Rehabilitation, using a roller increases the effectiveness of stretching.

1 comment :

  1. A good foam roller workout can be a good stress reliever too, as it helps you unwind. If you're feeling tight mentally after a long day, a good self-massage can work wonders.