Foam Roller Therapy: Why It’s Awesome

Practical Bodywork is thrilled to bring you this guest post by Jesse James Retherford of TAO-Fit.com.

Anyone who knows me is aware that I am a huge advocate of foam roller therapy, and for a good reason: it works. In my personal and professional life I have found that foam roller therapy is an incredibly valuable practice. It is an absolutely vital component of a well designed holistic fitness and health routine.

What is Foam Roller Therapy?

Foam roller therapy is simply one of the best methods available to treat and prevent injury. If you don’t own or spend any time using a foam roller (the main tool used in foam roller therapy), then get one. Start.  A foam roller is, in my opinion, one the best investments of time and money you can make when it comes to your long term health and fitness.

Foam roller therapy is the use of a foam roller for self massage. There are many different kinds of self massage tools out on the market.  Finding the right one can be a confusing and expensive process. I prefer to keep my tools super simple, inexpensive, and effective.  The self massage tools that I most often recommend and use are a Trigger Point Grid foam roller, lacrosse ball, golf ball, and a softball.

Foam roller therapy helps break down dysfunctional tissue caused by poor movement patterns, i.e. poor form.  It increases joint function, mobility, and range of motion. It reduces acute pain, speeds up recovery and healing, and it reduces injury.

Foam roller therapy gives you access to the powerful healing of deep tissue fascial massage, all at a very low price, and at any time of day, every day. Integrating foam roller therapy into your weekly routine will help you not only prevent pain and injury, but treat and quickly recover from an injury. It speeds up the recovery process between workouts and reduces the total amount of time you spend lame from an injury.  Using a foam roller after a hard workout is like injecting pure recovery directly into your tissue.  It allows you to have a challenging workout routine, while at the same time, minimizes the pain and injury cycle.

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Rolling your back

Want to read something that goes into a bit more detail about how foam roller therapy works? Want to learn how to do it? Read this.

When is the best time for Foam Roller Therapy?

Just about anytime is a great time for foam roller therapy. You can do it in the morning. You can do it in the evening. It’s great before a workout. It’s great after a workout. An important time for foam roller therapy is when you hurt. The best time for foam roller therapy is when you don’t hurt, because it really does help prevent you from hurting in the first place.

This is what this looks like for my clients: I often have a client who comes in for a workout session complaining about some minor pain in their knee, hip, back, or shoulder. These can be very frustrating sessions for the client. Whatever kick-butt workout I had planned gets ditched, because I don’t teach or train clients to exercise through the pain. If your knee hurts, then you can’t lunge or squat. If your shoulder hurts, then you can’t push or pull. The rule is: if it hurts to do… don’t do.

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Rolling your quads: scrumptious!

What does a workout look like if we can’t work out?

These are actually my favorite sessions to teach! I love it when someone shows up in pain.  Pain time is learning time.  These sessions are an opportunity to show them where their pain is coming from.  I can teach them how to treat and heal themselves. Instead of going through their regular workout, I pull out the foam roller and show them what and how to work on themselves specific to what they are feeling. I show them where the pain pattern is originating and how to help break it down.

Then we get them back on their feet and have them do the same exercise that was causing the pain. Nine times out of ten, they can perform the exercise with no pain. In the rare case that the pain doesn’t go away, I pull out the massage table and do deep tissue fascial massage. I follow up with corrective exercises to train their body to stabilize and move without pain. These are the most valuable sessions I offer. Teaching people how to move efficiently without pain. And more importantly, empowering them with knowledge, understanding, and tools in which they can integrate into their personal routine.

Foam roller therapy is a powerful tool in your fitness, health, and wellness arsenal. With consistent practice you can perform roughly 80% of the massage work that I do… on yourself. Eighty percent! That is powerful stuff. It means feeling better, better movement, getting more out of your workouts, improved posture, less time in pain, less time on the massage table, and you get more out of a professional massage since you are doing so much of the work on your own. When combined with a holistic training program, the benefits of foam roller therapy is well worth the effort.

This is from an email I recently received:
“I am told by 2 surgeons that I need hip surgery due to bone spur on right hip. Also have tight IT band. I am trying to avoid surgery and be pain free… Since I stumbled onto your website and started to do the foam rolling on all body parts I am pain free… Last surgeon said I have a tight IT band. Physio was targeting just the IT band and after reading what people have posted about rolling everything it made sense.  I have been doing physiotherapy for close to a year and this is the first time that I have found relief.”

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Rolling your IT band: not so much!

 

Interested in learning more? Check these out:
Foam Roller Therapy For Beginners
How To Treat and Prevent Injuries
Foam Rolling The IT Band
A Common Cause Of Sciatic Pain – Self Treatment
Self Treatment For Plantar Fasciitis

In the interest of full disclosure, I am an affiliate for Trigger Point Therapy. This means that if you purchase one of their products after clicking one of these links, I will get a small commission. That said, the only reason I am an affiliate for their products, primarily The Grid, is because I believe in it 100%.

Jesse James Retherford is a coach and therapist in Austin, TX. He helps his clients heal from the dysfunction of chronic pain and injury, recover and rebuild pain free posture and function, and propels them into the best condition of their lives so they can thrive physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually in all aspects of their career and life.  Find out more and sign up for his blog over at www.TAO-Fit.com

What Kind of Massage Should I Get?

The spa menu! Was there ever a thing so enticing, and simultaneously bewildering? ‘Bamboo Raindrop Swedish Scalp Treatment’! ‘Ayurvedic Aromatherapy Deep Tissue Scrub’! ‘Lavender Acupressure Intensive for Neck Pain’! ‘Meditative Earth Massage with Reflexology’? How in the world do you decide which one you need?

The dirty secret is, 90% of all this is marketing. Spas throw together these scrumptious-sounding confections so that they can charge you more money. That’s not to say the massage won’t be worth it; you just can’t tell by the packaging.

Your best bet is to shop around for a therapist who suits you. The technique is only as good as the therapist; anyone who is mechanically applying a particular treatment is not going to perform any miracles. And miracles are what you’re after!

With this in mind, here is your handy guide to deciphering the most common terms on spa menus.

Swedish Massage: This is basic. You take off your clothes, and the therapist rubs you with cream or oil in long, swooshing strokes. It’s nice. If the therapist is following the letter of the law, however, it won’t be much better than nice; if you’ve got a lot of knots, as most of us do, it can be screamingly frustrating. Your therapist will glide right over those festering areas, giving them no more and no less attention than the top of your hip bone. And few people ever get trigger points at their iliac crest.

Deep Tissue: Swedish, only tougher. Your therapist will go after those knots, possibly using elbows; your body will get a workout. However, the joy and relief you get from this is highly dependent upon the skill of your therapist. Some poor souls are imbued with lasting terror of deep tissue, after a ham-fisted masseuse left bruises that stayed for a week. A sensitive therapist will only go as deep as your body allows. If you flinch, tense up or cry out, and the therapist doesn’t immediately back off, don’t go back.

Shiatsu: Shiatsu is an Eastern modality that is traditionally performed on the floor, fully clothed. It involves the mobilization of joints, stretches, and pressure with cupped hands, thumbs and elbows, in specific patterns calledmeridians. Many people swear by it, particularly for back pain. Most Western therapists, however, don’t do straight Shiatsu, partly because it’s hard on their backs, partly because there’s little market for it. An experienced and well-trained practitioner will integrate some Shiatsu moves into a Swedish sequence, insuring that those meridians stay balanced.

Aromatherapy: A serious aromatherapist will interview you closely about your moods, health concerns, stress levels and daily habits before putting together a specific combination of natural essential oils to boost and tone your immune system, emotional condition and spiritual state. If you are getting ‘aromatherapy’ at a spa, this will not happen. It just means that your massage comes with scented oil instead of unscented. Ask to sample the oils before your massage, and ask if they’re natural or synthetic; synthetic oils have no therapeutic properties whatsoever.

Now we come to the more esoteric modalities of massage; the ones that you may reach for if you’re suffering from chronic pain, illness, or undiagnosed disorder that baffles your physician. Some of them may be effective; others may do nothing. Most of them won’t hurt you.

Neuromuscular Massage: This modality focuses on the elimination of trigger points, those areas of acute sensitivity that may radiate down a limb, or up into your skull, causing restriction of movement and chronic pain. A good massage therapist will be able to detect and treat these trigger points during a Swedish/Deep Tissue session, and eliminate them as part of the day’s work.

Since many massage therapists are just going through the motions, however, your chances of getting a thorough trigger-point tune-up are vastly increased if you go to one who explicitly states that they are neuromuscular-capable. At the very least they should be able to tell the difference between a trigger point and a tendon.

Reflexology: This is another Eastern modality that maps the body onto the soles of the feet, and intensively works your feet in order to stimulate healing responses elsewhere. It can be a particularly relaxing treatment if you are too sensitive in other parts of your body to tolerate direct massage.

Craniosacral Therapy: If you’re suffering from chronic neck pain due to whiplash, PTSD, or severe malaise of the nervous system, you might want to give this a try. It is extraordinarily subtle; the therapist places hands on your neck and skull and senses the pulses of your central nervous system, allowing the system to gently balance itself with minimal assistance. The theory is that bones in the skull are mobile, not fused, and the treatment brings these bones into proper alignment.

This theory, however, is controversial. Whatever is objectively happening during a craniosacral session, many clients find it deeply relaxing.

Reiki: This lightest-of-light energy modality is as controversial as it is popular. If you go to a practitioner who integrates Reiki with a more traditional massage session, you can soak in any potential benefits of Reiki while still getting your sore muscles kneaded.

Thai Massage: This is like passive yoga; massage connoisseurs say there’s nothing like it. You lie on a floor mat, and the practitioner bends, stretches and rocks your body in a way which give you a workout without the sweat. Look for an uptick in Thai popularity presently!