By: Dr. Peter Chiang DC, CCSP

To understand why we need to foam roll everyday, we need to understand the myofascial system that is affected by foam rolling, or other “releasing” techniques.

The myofascial system is made up of Myo = muscle, and Fascia = bandage or “girdle”. Fascia is a connective tissue just below the skin that runs throughout our entire body. It surrounds muscles, blood vessels, and nerves together much like a briefcase holds paper and pens inside. Healthy fascia acts like a “girdle” to hold muscles together in a compact manner. It prevents muscles, blood vessels, and nerves from moving freely within the body during movement or contraction. It also helps prevent injury by evenly distributing forces and loads over the whole muscle. Fascia prevents friction with other fascial structures. It allows muscles to change shape as they are stretched and shortened.

Under a microscope, a normal healthy fascia looks uniform and organized.

Healthy Fascia

Damaged fascia with scar tissue will look disorganized with proliferated blood cells.

Damaged fascia

Fascia becomes damaged through traumatic incidents such as auto accidents, slip and falls, sudden impacts, overuse (repetitive motion) / under-use (sitting), toxins that we ingest, and constant high levels of stress, which also manifest as trigger points.

These adhesions and trigger points will limit the range of motion in muscles and joints, as well as cause discomfort and pain. The purpose of any myofascial release technique is to break up these adhesions and trigger points throughout the fascia and muscles. The benefit of myofascial technique is to improve blood circulation to the skin, fascia, muscles, tendons, and ligaments where treated. With the improvement of blood circulation, soreness can be reduced and the dreaded Lactic Acid can be flushed out of the muscles. Myofascial techniques increase flexibility by lengthening the shortened tight muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Spinal range of motion is also increased.

Foam rolling is an inexpensive method of myofascial release, and it can be done anywhere. It advised to start with light (white) to medium (blue) density rollers for very tender areas like the glut medius, leg adductors, and the lats. Once the tolerance is built up, the high density (black) roller will be the only one you’ll need. Never roll over bone. Avoid rolling the lower back.

Foam roll for 10 – 20 minutes daily working the entire body, making 8-12 passes at each muscle or group of muscles. On the longer muscles such as hamstrings, leg adductors, and quadriceps: instead of rolling the entire length on one pass, start with the origin of the muscle, perform 8-10 passes, move to the belly of the muscle and perform 8-10 passes, then move to the insertion or end of the muscle and perform 8-10 passes.

Smaller areas can be targeted using a tennis or a massage ball. Play around with different materials to assess your tolerance. Keep in mind that just because it is very painful, doesn’t always mean that it is beneficial. The purpose is to bring in blood flow and “smooth out” the muscle, not to inflict pain.

After foam rolling, you may be sore the next day. It should feel as if your muscles have been worked. For the best results, drink plenty of water, get plenty of rest, and avoid excessive sugar.