Skip to main content

Foam Rolling (and Other Self-Massage Techniques)

*Originally written for and published in the CrossBoot Newsletter.

While we all know the benefits of a professional massage (relaxation, stress relief, muscle health, pain relief, etc.), most of us don't have the time or money to get a massage as often as we'd like. So this week, we explore the various options of self-massage therapy. We look at the foam roller and other apparatuses we can use at home to help alleviate pain associated with muscle tension and trigger points.
   Probably most familiar to athletes of all genres is the foam roller, or, for more extreme types, plain old PVC pipe (ouch!). Newer versions of the foam roller also contain special "fingers" and knobs to better reach trigger points, and are made of dense foam surrounding a solid plastic cylinder. The basic foam roller is easily found at sporting goods stores and even at superstores like Target; more technical rollers can often be found at running specialty stores or online. Foam rollers can range from about $15 to $65! 
   The basic foam roller is made of foam that is firm enough to break up muscle knots that develop from repetitive use. As an article inRunning Times notes,       "[t]hese injuries start as very minor micro-tears. Next, a repetitive tear-and-repair cycle causes a knot or a trigger point to develop. The runner then starts to experience pain and stiffness in the area." 
   To help smooth out these knots, in a commonly injured area--the IT band, for example, here is the basic technique:
   1. Place the foam roller on the floor perpendicular to your body.
   2. Place the hip of your aching side on the roller, putting as much weight on the roller as you can bear.
   3. Slowly roll downward from the hip to just above the knee, making sure to stop and apply a few seconds of added pressure when you come to a knot.
   4. Roll back up toward the hip and repeat until you can roll with less discomfort.
IT band rolling:
IT band roll
   You may find that many hip-to-knee voyages are required before you begin to feel relief. And ideally, rolling will be done both before and after the activity that triggers the pain. For maximum results, you'll want to do this several times per week, as long as the pain persists (and does not get worse from rolling). And as with any massage therapy, drinking extra water is recommended to help flush out the toxins that have been released in your body. 
   The foam roller can be used via the same technique for numerous other areas including the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and back. While it can also be used for the calves and shins, a more effective apparatus might be the stick roller, which is a more compact device that can be taken to the office or even packed away for a trip. 
   Most rolling sticks consist of a solid plastic stick with handles on either side and a rotating center piece (or pieces) loosely wrapped around the base that revolves as you roll.
  While a rolling stick can sometimes be found at sporting goods or running specialty stores, it is less available than the foam roller and can be ordered online. Rolling sticks can range from about $25 to $45. Or, for those more frugal athletes, a baker's rolling pin can also be substituted. 

Rolling stick massage:
calf rolling
   One important thing to remember when rolling with a stick is to make sure the muscle that's being rolled is relaxed, and not flexed.
   Another option for massaging out knots is an extremely cheap lacrosse or tennis ball. The lacrosse ball is slightly smaller and is harder, as it is made of solid rubber, whereas the tennis ball is hollow and has more give (for a gentler massage). 
   Here is a video tutorial on how to use a lacrosse ball for a back/shoulder massage: 
Lacrosse Ball Use for Upper Back and Neck Pain    
   And finally, another inexpensive therapy item that you may already have at home is a golf ball. The golf ball is an excellent way to keep the feet feeling flexible and fresh. Moreover, golf ball foot massages can be done discreetly at one's desk. Here is a look at a basic rolling technique for sore or tired feet:
Myofascial Release with Golf Ball on Foot 
   And if you're looking for some prop-free self-massage techniques, here is a collection of videos on "Self-Massage for Athletes" using nothing but your hands.
   Hopefully we've provided you with some new ways to help heal your body when going to the pros isn't an option. Happy massaging!


People Liked to Read...

Surgery Chronicles: Hard Feelings

I'm one and a half weeks out from my second foot surgery, and, by all important measures, I'm doing well. But boy has the past week been difficult. In the first few days post-surgery I was in a pretty good mood; the surgery had gone well, I was in the excellent care of my mom, and I had made it past the last major hurdle of this months-long event. All I had to look forward to was recovery and progress and gradually returning to my normal life, whatever that might look like.

But even though I've gone through this process once already, it's still just as difficult this time around. There's the constant worrying about this weird feeling or that new pain, the accidental step in the middle of the night when I forgot which foot was injured, and the agonizing wait time between appointments. Now it's compounded by concern over whether I'm taking good enough care of my first foot. Did I ruin the surgery when I stubbed my toe falling off an exercise ball? Am I using …

Surgery Chronicles: I Exhale

I've really been holding my breath with this recovery, more so than the last one for some reason. After getting past the three-week point (which was two weeks ago, when I started to write this), I felt a little more at ease. Since then I've been changing my own dressing daily and slowly weaning off of crutches so I can now walk around in the boot—hands-free! I'm still a slave to icing and elevating as much as possible throughout the day. But the very best part? There's no other foot left to do. After this, I'm done, done, done. I can start to return to a life not defined by sitting and waiting and feeling confined and limited and trying my hardest to heal but having little actual control over any of it.

I wrote in my last post about the difficult emotions I'd been having throughout this second surgery recovery. I think I underestimated the psychological toll I would take doing one foot right after the other. And while there was a feeling of elation after gettin…

Surgery Chronicles: 12 Weeks and Progress

I'm now more than 12 weeks recovered from my second (and final!) foot surgery, and life is starting to feel a little more normal. When I last wrote an update, seven weeks ago (still blaming Irma for all of my delays), I had just gotten off of crutches but would wear my boot for two more weeks. I've been out of the boot and walking in shoes for just over five weeks. The constant discomfort I've felt in my foot from swelling is finally starting to wane. I work in the office now, I do my own groceries, and I even attended a work conference recently, which meant lots of walking at airports and the conference hotel, frequent standing, and few opportunities to elevate and ice. I was very concerned about how my feet, particularly the left one, would endure. And while it wasn't comfortable, I made it through, no worse for the wear in the end.

I joined a new gym/community center recently, with a new and beautiful outdoor pool, and I'm so happy that I'm able to use it n…