Foam rolling is a self-myofascial release (SMR) technique that is used to prevent or relieve overactive muscles. This form of assisted stretching helps to release tight or painful muscles, sometimes caused by fascia inflammation (aka knots). Fascia is the soft tissue component of the connective tissue that surrounds muscles, groups of muscles, blood vessels and nerves. This connective tissue extends continuously throughout the entire body. Muscle fasciae have many responsibilities: they provide a smooth environment for muscle contraction and elongation; facilitate movement from muscle to bone; and enclose nerves and blood vessels as they pass through muscles. This soft tissue and muscles can become inflamed by injury, overuse, inactivity or trauma. When this happens, pain, muscle tension and spasms, localized diminished blood flow and referred pain from nerve fiber irritation can occur. Foam rolling is an effective way to help reduce the ongoing pain and reduced range of motion associated with this inflammation. In this technique, the concept of autogenic inhibition (a reflex relaxation) occurs and improves soft tissue elongation, in turn relaxing the tight muscle and allowing the activation of the opposing muscle.
Foam rolling is commonly and successfully used on muscles including: the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, hip flexors, piriformis, iliotibial band (the IT band is not a muscle, rather a thickening of the fascia or the outer sheathe of the muscle that originates at the top of the hip and extends down to the side of the knee), trapezius (upper back), latissimus dorsi (lats), and certain areas of the neck. Please be advised not to foam roll directly on the spinal cord because of the lack of “cushion” and thus creating too much pressure on the nerves and vertebrae. This technique is best used on large muscle groups that are common areas of muscle tightness and pain. A foam roller is cylinder of various sizes; generally they are 12- 48 inches long and 6 inches in diameter. They also come in different densities. Typically the white foam rollers are softer and the black foam rollers are high density, which creates greater force on the targeted area.
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