The Physio’s Guide To Foam Rolling
Need a sports massage? Physiotherapist Hayley Schuter explains how to go DIY for all the benefits at a fraction of the expense
Your cushy new fitness BFF
In an ideal world, you would spend way less time chained to your desk, enjoy a daily yoga practice and go for regular sports massages. You would be able to touch your toes and you would never complain of a sore neck again. Here, in the real world, you need a hack for that kind of relief. And, if used correctly, a foam roller can be it. “I love foam rolling because it’s the closest thing to a massage that we can do ourselves to help relieve tight or sore areas in our muscles,” says physiotherapist Hayley Schuter, owner of HS Physio in Cape Town. “I regularly suggest foam rolling to my patients because it’s a technique (if performed correctly) that can help manage tightness and stiffness and reduce the risk of pain and injury.”
How it works
Myofascial release refers to the release of tension in the muscles and fascia, explains Schuter. Fascia is a dense layer of connective tissue that covers many structures in the body, including muscles, organs and joints, and allows them to function smoothly without friction. Muscles are generally divided into two groups – those that move an area and those that stabilise an area. “The pressure you apply during rolling helps both of these to function properly by reducing restrictions and improving circulation, which in turn promotes natural healing,” says Schuter. Sitting at a desk for hours, pushing yourself too hard during exercise or attempting a strenuous movement that you’re not used to can lead to knots or trigger points in your muscles. You’ll feel a sore spot when your muscle is stretched, contracted or compressed. These restrictions can also cause referred pain – for example, a trigger point in your thigh muscle could cause pain in your knee. Focusing on these spots when you’re foam rolling – you’ll recognise them by the intense hurtsso-good pain you feel – can help them release.
Do it right
It’s not as simple as draping yourself across a roller and shuffling back and forth. These are Schuter’s tips for getting the most out of your roller. Go slowly. Do at least 10 slow rolls in each position. Breathe. It’s important to keep breathing and not hold your breath so you can help circulate fresh oxygen to the muscles you’re rolling. Start simple. If you’re new to foam rolling, start with a softer, smooth roller. You can work your way up to the firmer rollers and then bumpy ones – if you need them. Make it a routine. Ideally you should roll three to five times a week. Three times would be more for maintenance; five times is what you need in order to work on a restriction. Stick it out. Rolling can be quite uncomfortable when you first start, but it does get easier!