Treating Chronic Pain: Top 5 Foam Rolling and Self-Massage Basics

According to a recent study, doctors are over treating chronic back pain. Most people over 30 have it. And it can really put a damper on life. Enter: the foam roller. It will change your life. I use it on myself and all of my clients. Some have a love-hate relationship with the foam roller. And others, well, let’s just say, it’s their new boyfriend (as you will see in later posts, we get reallyclose to our rollers). It’s great not only for back pain, but neck, shoulder, knee and foot pain.

Foam rolling (along with various types of body rolling tools) are key for keeping chronic pain at bay. Pictured above are various tools I use. At top the 6″x36″ foam roller, a 9″ Yamuna body rolling ball and MELT Method hand and foot treatment balls. So for the sake of simplicity, I’ll use the term foam roller, but it could be applied to the other tools as well. Tennis/lacrosse balls are another great tool.

Here’s what the foam roller does:
It rehydrates and brings back flexibility to the fascia and myofascia. Myo-what?

The layer of connective tissue under the skin is the fascia. It has 10 times more pain receptors than muscle. So when you think you have tight muscles and pulled “something”, it’s probably the fascia. Typically it’s those “knots” you feel in your neck, back, calves or wherever you hold stress. Or you know when you can’t turn your head to back up the car and you just don’t know what you did to pull a muscle, yeah, it’s the fascia. The fascia encases everything in your body, including muscles, organs, tendons, etc. And this is typically where chronic pain is lingering. The foam roller can also target deeper layers of our tissue and get into the myofascia, which is our muscle. Once we warm up the fascia, we can dig a little deeper into the muscle.

Do you know what happens when we overuse (logging miles and miles on the treadmill) or not use our bodies enough (the couch potato watching marathons of Breaking Bad)? The connective tissue and muscles start to stick together. Foam rolling helps break that up to keep everything moving along while keeping the tissues hydrated. Sitting, hunching, running, cycling…all these things are repetitive and start to accumulate over a lifetime and using the foam roller helps reverse over- or under-use of our bodies.

Top 5 foam rolling basics:
1. Softer is better. Start with a soft foam roller to target the fascia and warm-up the body. Roll up your foam roller in a yoga or pilates mat or towel, unless you have a MELT roller.
2. Less is more. Start with 10 minutes a day. Too much too soon can cause adverse reactions.
3. Roll in multiple directions, front to back, side to side, circles, indirectly.
4. Do not roll joints or “spaces” of the body such as under the neck, lower back, back of knees or ankles. Leave that to a professional masseuse.
5. No pain, no gain does not apply. Again, less is more when it comes to pain. Back off if it’s too painful. Rolling shouldn’t hurt. It should feel good.

If you have had recent surgery or a medical procedure, consult with your doctor before rolling.

Amy Mastrogiuseppe
Certified Personal Trainer, Yoga, Kettlebell & Krankcycle Instructor

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