The DOs and DON'Ts of Proper Foam Rolling
Foam rolling is a process that helps people stretch, work out knots in muscle and relieve pain. It's also been documented to help improve range of motion and performance. Nothing more than the pressure of your body weight allows you to give yourself what is essentially a self-massage.
The downside to rolling is that there is a lot of bad information being circulated by people who don't know any better. Protect yourself. Here are some of the DO's and DON'Ts of proper foam rolling.
DON'T roll over bones, joints or places where tendons attach. When you're rolling the front of your body, avoid your floating ribs. Those are the ribs that are only attached in the back, to your spine. In the front floating ribs are the ones not attached to your sternum. It's especially important to avoid fractured or broken bones until they've healed completely.
DON'T roll your lower back. If you're working the upper back, stop once the roller reaches the end of your rib cage. Putting pressure on your lower back simply causes the muscles to seize up in an attempt to protect your spine. That's the opposite effect of what you're trying to achieve.
DON'T roll your neck.
DON'T use a roller over a muscle strain until at least three days after it happens. Then you should avoid any areas that are swollen. Only roll above or below the injured area.
DON'T roll over an area that causes pain. Massaging a knot in the muscle will cause discomfort. When you find a problem area, it's recommended that you give it more attention and that may be uncomfortable. However, should that discomfort turn to pain, especially if it's a sharp pain, it's time to stop. That's true of both foam rolling and massage.
When you find a spot that's too sensitive, move a few inches away. Concentrate on rolling around the area. Over time the pain should subside. Call your doctor if it doesn't.
DON'T roll too fast. It's not like rolling out a piece of dough. Muscle takes time to release and adapt to the pressure. Lightly roll for ten to thirty seconds. Move over the area an inch at a time. When you're finished with a pass, stop and rest or gently stretch for five to ten seconds. You can go back and roll the area again up to two more times, for a maximum of three times.
DON'T take too much time. I've seen people try to roll a problem spot for five or ten minutes straight. That's a great way to damage and bruise the tissue.
DON'T be a contortionist. Sagging hips, a twisted spine or a rounded back can all cause problems. Make sure your body is kept in alignment that's proper for the area you're rolling. If you're unsure, seek advice from a professional or ask someone to use a smartphone and record your movements. Then compare your body's positioning to what the experts instruct.
DO roll only one leg or arm at a time. When possible, depending on the body area you're rolling, try to keep three points of contact with the ground. For example, two hands and a leg, so you can apply as much or as little pressure as you need to the limb being rolled.
DO spend the time to roll at least three or four times a week. Do it more frequently if you've got a lot of knots or are particularly inflexible.
DO make sure the foam roller you're using is appropriate for your needs. There are a wide variety to choose from. Some rollers are made of foam and quite pliable, while others are much firmer with rubber ridges, knobs or vibrating massagers built-in.
Pick one that helps relieve discomfort when used, but that doesn't cause pain. If you like a deep tissue massage, try the more bumpy rollers. If you like a softer touch, get one that's smooth.
Follow these simple rules and make your foam rolling more effective.
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