Like many people who work from home during the pandemic, Veronica Javor has swapped out a supportive desk chair in her office for a soft sofa in her living room. It was comfortable at first, but soon the new seat took a heavy toll, as Javor, the content creator, developed a sharp pain in the left buttock.
I tried to ignore it, but after a very hard Pilates workout focused on the butt, the discomfort became unbearable. “I used to wake up in pain every morning, and eventually the pain was so severe that I was afraid to exercise at all,” the 39-year-old said.
Her physical therapist said the problem was tight buttocks and suggested she roll her leg on a foam roller three times a day to get rid of the tension. After a month of following the rolling plan, she started hurting less and could exercise more.
Muscle tension, whether it’s the result of sitting all day or strenuous exercise, can make it difficult to move the way you want to. An hour on a massage table may relieve pain and improve performance, but some experts say you can get similar benefits from a foam roller at home. Research supporting this practice is still being built, and some scholars are skeptical about it, but there are a few things you need to know if you’re going to give it a try.
foam rolling case
Every muscle in your body is held in place by layers of connective tissue called fascia. According to Cedric Bryant, president and chief scientific officer of the American Council on Exercise, both exercise and inactivity can cause this tissue to become stiff or dense, generating tension throughout the muscle or tightness in a more localized area — the so-called trigger point or knot. – Restricting flexibility and range of motion.
When stiff or deviated fascia prevents muscles and joints from moving effectively, exercise can be uncomfortable and risky. “If you can’t move your shoulder because your joints or muscles are tight, you usually end up with an injury when you try to strengthen it,” said physical therapist Teresa Marco.
In theory, rolling a muscle on a solid, cylindrical piece of foam does something similar to massaging. “Like a massage, rolling a foam uses friction to release tension and realign the fascia,” Bryant said.
modern one Systematic review of 49 . studies It is concluded that foam rolling for 90 seconds to two minutes at a time often reduces muscle stiffness and increases range of motion, or joint mobility. Other small studies She found that foam rolling can also improve flexibility, or the ability of soft tissues to elongate, at least in the short term. long term studies They discovered that rolling the hamstrings three times a week for four weeks also improved flexibility.
Adding a foam roller to your cooler may also prevent or reduce post-workout soreness by promoting blood flow. 2014 study Foam rolling after strength exercises suggested relieving muscle soreness while improving exercise performance, as measured by vertical jump height and range of motion.
The case against foam rolling
Not everyone is sold on foam rollers. Dr. Elizabeth Gardner, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Yale University School of Medicine, said the people she treats often put a lot of faith in that. “Oh, foam rollers – how athletes love you!” I wrote in a letter. “But unfortunately, their obsession with rolling the foam has no scientific basis.”
She said most of the studies supporting foam rolling are small, often using different methods than one another, which makes it hard to see why it works.
Bryant admitted that there are no large, well-designed studies to confirm the efficacy of this practice. One 2015 meta-analysis of 14 articles He concluded that while foam rolling appears to improve movement and reduce muscle soreness, there is no agreed upon way to do so.
Foam rollers can also cause injuries to some people. People with arthritis can damage their joints, for example, and rolling over an injury, whether it’s a broken bone or a torn muscle, can aggravate it. People with mobility issues or anyone who cannot control their body weight on the floor should also exercise caution, or seek a safer alternative from a physical therapist.
get a roll
If you decide to try foam rolling, Dr. Michael Fredrickson, MD, professor of sports medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine, suggests using a rigid roller. You can also find some with textured bumps and lumps, which Bryant said may relieve deeper muscle tension.
Jean-Michel Prisme, MD, a physical therapist and director at the International Academy of Osteopathic Medicine, recommends starting with a lighter pressure, not putting too much of your body weight on the pulley. Usually a minute or two is enough time, but you can start with less.
Here are five foam wrap exercises to try at home before or after your workout. If you’re not sure if a foam roll is safe for you, talk to your physical therapist or primary care provider.
Sitting for long periods of time can tighten your butt muscles, as can exercises like deadlifts, squats, and lunges. Place a foam roller on the floor and sit on it horizontally. With your knees bent or straight out (or one leg bent and the other straight), press your feet to the floor and roll your buttocks back and forth until you find sore points. Lean to one side as you roll to avoid hitting the tailbone. If you feel this is too intense, try lying in your bed in the same position and sliding the tennis ball under the trigger point.
shoulder blade roll
Dumbbell presses, pushups, and rowing exercises can all create tension around the shoulder bones. To relieve tension, lie on the floor with the foam roller perpendicular to your spine and wrap the muscles around your shoulder blades. It may be a good idea to cuddle yourself or open your arms in the process.
The hamstrings, which start at the hip and connect to the knee, can become tight after a leg exercise. Lying on your back, raise one leg at a time as high as possible, using a towel around your foot to create resistance. Pull on the towel to stretch the hamstrings before rolling.
Then, in a seated position with your legs straight, place the roller under the back of your thighs. Roll back and forth along the hamstrings. If you notice smaller areas of tightness, continue there. After that, you should be able to stretch more deeply.
mid back foam roll
Rolling your middle back can feel relief after working at the computer or doing upper body exercises such as push-ups or pull-ups. Place the roller under your back, parallel to your spine, and gently roll it from side to side over the muscles around your spine. Roll each side of the spine separately and avoid rolling the bones themselves. Keep in mind that rolling over can lead to acute injuries or chronic back ailments if you have them.
neck movement exercise
Too much time spent at the desk can strain the muscles holding your head, leading to headaches. Using the foam roller as a mobility tool can lengthen the cervical spine and promote relaxation and flexibility of the surrounding muscles, Marco said, and gently applying pressure to the foam roller can relieve trigger points.
Lie on the floor with the foam roller placed behind your neck, parallel to the base of your skull. Keeping your knees bent with your buttocks and feet on the floor, slowly rotate your head to the left and right. Instead, keep your head still and try to gently rock your knees back and forth, stretching your lower body. Avoid this exercise if you have had any previous neck pain or nerve problems, because it can put pressure on the nerves and make the problem worse. – This article originally appeared in The New York Times