Foam Rolling for Fascia Health

Foam rolling can be a great tool to rehydrate and restore suppleness to fascia. John F. Barnes, PT describes fascia as a densely woven sweater “covering and interpenetrating every muscle, bone, nerve, artery and vein, as well as, all of our internal organs including the heart, lungs, brain and spinal cord.” While foam rolling may not actually provide a full myofascial release (see this article), I believe it can be beneficial in decreasing fascial adhesions and relieving pain.

Foam rolling benefits

Tom Myers says, “In epithelial and muscle tissues, the water is squeezed out of the tissues, and then is sucked back in when the pressure moves on or is taken away. Like squeezing a sponge over the sink and then letting it fill again while doing the pots and pans, this is generally a good idea. As the old bedouin proverb has it:  ‘Water still: poison!  Water moving: life!'”

Foam rolling advice

According to Tracy Maxfield, NMT, SRA, NKT, “The goal when working with fascia is more like trying to scultp it into a more supportive and accomidating structure so it will not restrict movement or cause pain. If you release scar tissue or adhesions thoroughly it will have long lasting benefits as well.”

  1. Move mindfully. Pay attention to what you are doing. Now is not the time to let your mind wander. Focus on your body and how the slow rolling movements feel.
  2. Try to hold the roller still. We know that fascia surrounds everything in our body. For this reason, it is extremely beneficial to try to find ways to slide our bodies over a stable object. This will allow a shearing between the fascia and skin and will provide a great release.
  3. Maneuver the roller in to unusual places. Sure, it’s alluring to just go after the big muscles groups; they’re so easy to find and feel. Take some time, though, and play with the roller. Try to find the hard to reach areas of tightness, and then get your roller in there.
  4. Be respectful of painful areas. Do not inflict pain upon yourself. When you feel pain, there is a point where your muscles will start contracting. Our purpose to rolling is for relaxation, so don’t stay too long on painful spots. In fact, if you have an area that is very painful, avoid it until your body is ready.

Foam rolling exercises

  1. foam roller hamstringsHamstrings (back of your thighs). You must have the ability to support yourself with your arms while moving your body. Start by sitting on the roller with your legs together and straight in front of you. Let your arms support you as you move your hips back and forth, allowing the roller to roll up and down your hamstrings.
  2. foam roller calvesGastrocnemius/Soleus (Calves). This is very similar to the hamstring roll, except you are working your calves. Sit on the floor with the roller under the biggest part of your calves. Press in to your hands to lift your bottom off the floor. From your core and pelvis, move back and forth, creating an up and down roll on your calves.
  3. foam roller TFLTensor fascia latae (TFL). Start on your side with the roller at the top of your hip bone. Your bottom leg will be out straight so that you make a line from head to heel. Your top leg can be bent, with your foot resting on the floor, or you may keep the top leg straight and stacked on top of the bottom leg. Now, rotate forward slightly so that you can feel the roller press in to the front/side of your pelvis. Use your top leg, your bottom arm, or a combination of both to move along the pelvis.
  4. foam roller IT bandIliotibial band (the outside of your leg). Once you have completed #3, roll so that you are completely on your side. This area of the body can be particularly tender, so please use caution! Using your top leg, your bottom arm, or a combination of the two, roll from your hip (where your leg joins your pelvis) down to either just above or just below the knee. There is some ambiguity about which is best, so pay attention to your body and follow your natural instinct.
  5. foam roller piriformisPiriformis (a deep muscle on the side of your bottom). Have a seat on the roller with your knees bent. Keeping your body in a straight line, shift over to a side allowing the opposite hip to lift slightly. Roll. If you don’t feel this, cross one foot over the opposite knee. Lean into the hip of the top leg. Roll.
  6. foam roller glutesGlutes (bottom).  Have a seat on the roller with your knees bent. Keep your weight evenly distributed and roll back and forth.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
  7. foam roller thoracicThoracic spine (short roller and long roller). Thus far, everything we have done has been with, what I call, the short roller.  Continue with the roller this way and slowly roll from the top of your hips to the top of your shoulders. As you move, really let your spine relax and curve around the roller.                               foam roller long spineNow, take the roller and spin it so it’s going the long way. Take a seat at the end of the roller and slowly lower yourself back so you’re head, spine, and pelvis are on the roller. With knees bent, bring your feet wide and let your arms go by your side, palm up. Rock from side to side letting the roller work on the spinal muscles that are on your back, further away from your spine.
  8. foam roller adductorsAdductors (inner thighs). Place an inner thigh on the roller going the long way. Slowly roll. Do not let the roller come all the way up to the hip.
  9. foam roller quadricepsQuadriceps (front of your thighs). Place the foam roller the short way across the front of your pelvis. If you are just wanting to get your quadriceps, start where you can feel your legs connect to your pelvis. I have c-section scar tissue, so I start my roller at the top of my hip bones to work on scar tissue in the abdomen before I move on to my quads. Let your arms and core support you as you roll down and up.
  10. foam roller latsLatissimus dorsi. Lie on your side with your bottom arm reaching up. You should make a dart from the tips of your fingers to your heels. Place the roller on the meaty part of your shoulder joint. Bend the knee of your top leg and use it to move you. Your finger tips of your top arm can lightly touch the roller to help you stay stable.

 

Here are links to the foam rollers that I use.

For my visual learners, here’s a video!

Just to play devil’s advocate, here’s a really interesting article on why foam rolling doesn’t work. Here’s my favorite article about why rolling works, but maybe not for myofascial release.

For customized Pilates and yoga sessions with me, fill out the Medical History and Waiver, and I’ll be in touch.

Am I missing any foam roller exercises that may release the fascia? Let me know below.

Sarah Stockett is STOTT certified in Matwork, Reformer, Cadillac, Chair, & Barrels, Injuries & Special Populations, and CORE; a Yoga Alliance RYT-200; and has studied Active Isolated Stretching. When she is not trying to discover the best exercises to get rid of pain, she likes watching movies and travelling with her family.

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