Limit soreness and tightness by increasing blood flow and flexibility.
The foam roller, like traditional stretching, is a great tool for lengthening and elongating muscles, but its benefits are especially helpful for runners, who often suffer from tight and fatigued muscles. Instead of simply lengthening the muscle, a foam roller massages muscles intensely, much like a massage from a massage therapist, but without the heavy cost.
When used often and correctly, the foam roller can help runners avoid many sport-related injuries, explained Bryan Hill, a physical therapist and co-owner of Rehab United, a physical therapy center in San Diego.
“It’s not a replacement for proper stretching, warming up or cooling down, but can be used as a tool to limit soreness and tightness through increased blood flow and flexibility,” said Hill.
Many injuries can be avoided through proper stretching and foam roller use, and Hill stresses that the foam roller is better at preventing injury than rehabbing an existing injury. “The key is being proactive. Don’t get the foam roller and then leave it in your garage,” Hill says.
The iliotibial band, the band that runs on the outside of the leg from the hip to just below the knee, is one of the parts of the body most susceptible to injury in runners. Roll the foam roller on the side of the leg, slowly back and forth toward the top of the leg, particularly on the quad, where it meets the IT band. This helps to increase blood flow and circulation, aiding healing and preventing injury, explains Felicia Gomez Ph.D., owner of Fresno, Calif.-based fitness and wellness company, Pinnacle Training Systems. “The foam roller can be used on any part of the body, but avoid torn muscles,” Gomez said.
There are several different types of foam rollers available from the original foam roller to Trigger Point Therapy to the Rumble Roller. Each roller effectively stretches the muscle out in a similar manner, though the denser the roller or the deeper the ridges on the roller, the more intense the stretch will be.