By Coach Elise Perez
Whoever told you to roll away that painful knot in your back with a foam roller was misinformed.
But it’s hard to blame them; working on muscle tissue with foam rollers, and other tools, has become increasingly popular in the fitness world, and so have the myths about what these tools can actually do for us.
We get it, it feels good so it must be doing something, right? Well, you’re not wrong, but it may not be doing what you think and more notably, you may not be using it correctly and therefore effectively.
So we’re here to present you with the facts:
Foam rolling does NOT break up scar tissue
This is the biggest myth out there that will not seem to die. Foam rolling does not break up knots (adhesions) or cause permanent change to tissue. There is no way a human could produce enough force to break up or remodel tissue. We’re not talking about a kleenex here.
Soft tissue supports our internal organs and bones; this includes muscles, tendons, ligaments and more. It is way more resilient than many realize. In fact, we don’t want to “break up” our soft tissue because it’s holding in all those important parts of us.
Rather foam rolling changes the tone of soft tissue or the relative tightness. Foam rolling works because of the way that good feeling connects to your brain. By applying pressure through the muscle tissue, our nervous system gets a signal that overrides those of tightness and pain. We have neurologically unlocked the tightness.
Foam rolling is not going to fix your poor mobility
It would be nice, but sadly, no. Foam rolling can definitely have its place in a balanced training program, but it must be combined with other training modalities to create results. There is a lot more to mobility than our soft tissue, so you’ll have to bring more with you to the battle of enhancing mobility and functionality.
Foam rolling can provide short term improvements to range of motion, without affecting muscle performance, in combination with static stretching, corrective exercise, activation and training those foundational movement patterns!
Great! I’m going to foam roll everything now!
Hold on a sec. Remember that bit at the beginning about using foam rolling correctly? Don’t waste your time excruciatingly rolling your IT band if that’s not a problem area for you. Maybe just stay off the IT band all together (hips, hammies, and quads may do you better).
If you have notable movement dysfunctions or pain, then yes, focus your foam rolling on those areas before you train and as part of your recovery. There’s also no need to do every move you’ve ever seen, choose 1-2 specific foam rolling movements per dysfunction or pain area. Foam rolling should be individual to you in order to get the benefit and keep you from wasting your time.
Clearly foam rolling has its time and place; it can help us to feel reduced tension, provide short term benefits with improving range of motion before a training session and aid in recovery. But it’s a component, it’s not everything, even though it hurts so good.