Foam Rolling-Part One:What’s It All About?

Man foam rollingFoam rolling is professionally known as Self-Myofacial Release.  It’s designed to allow your fascia to work without impairment.  But what exactly are fascia? The easiest way I can explain it is to have you imagine that each muscle comes with it’s own condom.  You want this condom to contain, not be too tight, and slide appropriately when its muscle moves.  THAT is the role of the fascia.

Self-Myofacial Release -foam rolling-is a technique to keep this “muscle condom” working in perfect order.  A simple explanation: using a tool to massage the fascia covering a muscle group.  Often that tool is a 6″ round foam tube, though PVC piping, balls, rolling pins, water bottles, and specialized tools can be used too.

This fascial massage:

  • Improves ROM by removing adhesions, reducing tension / tightness and neurological inefficiencies, and passively lengthening the muscle.
  • Used in conjunction with stretching protocols can improve muscle length, flexibility and mobility
  • Improves recovery and helps relieve the effect of DOMS

First point: It increases RANGE OF MOTION.

While we’re inactive- sleeping or spending too many hours working at a computer- our fascia relaxes, and small fibers of “fuzz” grows between them.  If we stretch completely when we get back up, this fuzz can easily be broken down again.  However, if we don’t move our muscles through their full range of motion, that fuzz remains.  And grows.

Eventually these fuzzy fibers stick together making a small “knot” of fuzz.  This knot may make a movement painful- restricting your range of movement.  Now think about when you’ve seen a wool sweater that has been thrown in the washing machine.  The fibers tangle among themselves becoming tighter and smaller.  The sweater shrinks and eventually -if enough heat and cold and agitation is present-becomes felt.

The same thing happens to the fuzz that grows between myofascia.

If we attack this fuzz when it’s light and thin, it’s easy to get rid of.  A thorough stretch before we get out of bed will help.  And foam rolling once a day will go even further to break down some of the “felted” knots we’ve developed over the years.

Like wool fibers, fascia runs in one direction: the direction in which the muscle moves.  Slightly injure a spot on a muscle and the fibers in that spot will realign themselves in different directions to protect those muscle fibers while they heal much like a patch on bicycle tube.  Afterward, we must work to break down this patch -by stretching to the point of tightness, relaxing and working for greater range of motion.  Foam rolling helps things along by encouraging the fascial fibers to realign themselves- once again moving in the direction of muscle fiber movement.

Oh, if only we could do the same thing with our ruined sweaters!

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7 responses to “Foam Rolling-Part One:What’s It All About?

  1. Love it Deb! I have been foam rolling every day since we talked about this(like… all three of them? lol) and while I’m still not sure I’m doing it right, it does feel nice and I’m hopeful that it is helping!

  2. Deb, do you know if this is good to do after surgery that has involved cutting through fasica/muscles? I’m about a month post-surgery and am wondering if it would be useful. Looking forward to tomorrow’s how-to.

  3. I love foam rolling. Thanks for all that extra information!

  4. Yoga has done lots to un-knot me, but adding the foamy roller would increase mu euphoric unknottiness. Thank you for reminding me to use the foam roller that I have. :)

  5. I brought a foam roller into the office and have found that although I got a lot of funny looks at first, once folks tried it…they were converts!

    (And it is weird that I like some of the more painful foam rolling?)

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