Foam Rollers: Helpful Or Just A Torture Device?

By Dr. Philip Cordova

February 10, 2016

I’d seen foam rollers available in the “abs” area at the gym for years. I had no clue how to use them. When someone suggested that I give one a try, I walked over to the area and began to do what I thought I should do. I rolled on my IT band (the outer side of my thigh) and immediately and involuntarily let out a swear word. Man, that hurt! There’s no way I could be using it correctly. Fast forward a few years and it’s one of my favorite things to do to alleviate muscle soreness, recover from workouts, and improve range of motion. So what happened?

First, I began to understand the importance of consistently and correctly using this simple device. What it feels like is someone using the heel of their hand to break up muscle adhesions and areas of stiffness. Initially, it’s important to control how much pressure you apply to the areas. Once you get used to it, you’ll want to use even more pressure to achieve the desired result.

Using foam rollers is different than stretching.

While stretching works on elongating the muscles, ligaments, and tendons of your body, foam rolling addresses the fascia. Fascia is all the soft tissue that surrounds and is between all the muscles, ligaments, and tendons. It also addresses and breaks up scar tissue. Scar tissue is how your body heals from all of the injuries you’ve ever had in your life. Breaking it up and helping your body return to its state of better movement and blood flow is a good thing.

Foam rollers aren’t just for runners, either.

When I ask patients if they use a foam roller, most don’t know what I’m talking about, and the ones that have used one have only done so on their legs. They’re totally missing the best part! Especially for patients that sit at a computer all day, rolling the upper and mid back can be a life-changing experience. I have patients that have spent more than 20 years hunched over a computer (and it showed), see serious benefit from rolling their backs on a regular basis.

You’ll feel the movement increase, the stiffness go away, and the blood flow return to the area. Patients do have some trouble figuring out how to use it, that’s why Dr. Natalie Cordova put together a video on the subject:

That’s just hitting the big areas too. Sometimes, you’ll feel a lot of soreness and get down on the floor and foam roll. It will feel a lot better, but you’ll still notice some “knots” and very localized areas of stiffness and soreness. That’s where the lacrosse ball comes in. While the foam roller feels like someone using the heel of their hand to relax muscles, the lacrosse ball feels more like someone digging their elbow into the knot.

Don’t roll on the lacrosse ball, though.

You don’t use the lacrosse ball like a mini-foam roller. You’ll just irritate the area. You can “roll” the lacrosse ball gently until you find the knot or area you want to work, then just apply pressure. Hold that for at least 15 – 30 seconds and then move on to another area. Once you’ve done a few areas for the first time, it’s probably a good idea to give it a rest and wait until the next day to see how you feel.

If you’re a little sore, it’s okay to continue. If you’re super-sore, you may have overdone it. Better to give it another day before doing another round of lacrosse ball work. You’ll be amazed and how much improvement you’ll see in just a few days using the combination of the foam roller and the lacrosse ball. Even if you just focus on the upper and mid back for both (to save time), patients report less pain during their work day and improved sleep.

Any questions? Be sure to talk it over with your doctor. We’ll be happy to demonstrate during your visit and even watch how you’re using either device to make sure you’re using it correctly.

Dr. Philip Cordova

About the author

Dr. Philip Cordova is a chiropractor in Houston, Texas. He grew up in Phoenix, Arizona and decided to become a chiropractor after hurting his back as a teenager and getting help from chiropractic care. He is speaker on health & posture. Click Here To Read His Full Bio

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