A few years ago, I walked into an appointment with my new personal trainer. After a whole array of body and movement assessments, she handed me a foam roller and told me to lie sideways on it. I’d never seen, let alone laid on, a foam roller before. That was the beginning of my extreme ‘love-hate’ affair with the roller. Those of you who’ve ever used a foam roller as a form of stretching, will get that.
After instructing me to lie on my side (the foam roller just below my hip) she had me begin to walk my body upward, the roller travelling the length between my hip and the outside of my knee. I had, maybe, gone a few inches when it happened…the pain shot through my leg like a bullet. And, of all things, she told me to stop right where it hurt! Are you kidding me? Honestly, I’d never quite felt an isolated pain like that before. Not to be dramatic (which I am accused of from time to time) but my whole body shook under the pressure that was being created between the roller and the “hot spot” in my leg.
At the time, I thought, “I’m never doing that again”. Then a year or so later, my knee started bugging me. Not always, but during a long run and for a day or so after. My knee continued to get worse and eventually sidelined me which found me standing in a physical therapy office being asked, “Do you use a foam roller?”. Really?? My It band (a thick band of fibrous tissue that runs down the outside of the leg and helps in knee stability) was so tight that it was actually pulling my knee cap sideways. IT Band Syndrome is VERY common and can be completely avoided with proper stretching. That’s where the “love” part of my affair with the foam roller began.
The jobs that foam rollers perform so well are stretching and self-massage. By rolling over a muscle and then pausing on any ‘hot spots’ for a good 20-30 seconds, the muscles both warm (the stretch) and release knots (the massage) that can lead to tightness and pain and eventual injury. I always tell my first-timers to brace themselves. It WILL hurt. But, as with so many things, the more you do it, the less it hurts. Eventually, you’ll be looking to see how many different muscles you can roll-out. And, once you get stretchy enough, set the foam roller aside and try out one of these more intense rollers: