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11 Easy Foam Rolling Exercises for Aches & Pains

11 Easy Foam Rolling Exercises for Aches & Pains


All you need to know about relieving pain with foam rolling

As we age, our muscles lose elasticity and our joints and connective tissues are always prone to tensions and muscle cramps. Even simple tasks and daily activities such as walking and climbing stairs become a painful feat. To relieve the pain we feel, experts suggest getting massages. However, going to a spa to get a massage can be expensive if you’re always suffering from chronic muscle pains. Good thing there’s a cheaper way to get rid of aches and pains: foam rollers.


What is foam rolling?

Foam rolling is a self-massaging technique using foam rollers. Athletes and physical therapists also call this secret technique a form of self-myofascial release, a fancy way of calling self-administered muscle pain relief.

You know the painful knot you feel in your shoulders after long periods of sitting at work or the sore muscles in your limbs and thighs after an intense workout? By using a foam roller, you can massage those aching muscles with the pressure of your own body weight. Those tiny muscle knots, which therapists call “trigger points”, harden muscle and affect its ability to function normally. Our muscles should be healthy, elastic and ready to perform in an instant to be considered normal. Once we feel pain, our body is telling us there’s something wrong with it.


Scientific Benefits of Foam Rolling

For years, foam rolling has just been a practice that’s been passed on from one practitioner to the other due to the experience-based relief it brings to them. There has been no scientific evidence to back up the technique.

However, in 2014, a research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that the practice of foam rolling is not just some pseudoscience. Based on their results, self-myofascial release using foam rollers is a very effective treatment in reducing stiffness and improving blood circulation in muscles. With simple foam rolling exercise can also improve your range of motion and muscle recovery without losing muscle performance. Its other proven benefits include:


  • Fixes muscle imbalance

  • Relieves painful muscle spasm

  • Relieves fatigue after exercise

  • Promotes normal blood circulation

  • Makes joints flexible

  • Helps repair muscles

  • Improves quadriceps muscles’ range of motion

  • Boosts muscle recovery

  • Re-establishes proper movement patterns

  • Decreases chances of injury during any activity


How Foam Rolling works

According to scientific explanations by experts, foam rolling targets two neural receptors in our body’s skeletal muscle tissue: the muscle spindle and the Golgi tendon organ.

Muscle Spindles are in charge of recording changes in the length of muscle fibers to our central nervous system. Once there’s a problem, it will reflexively shorten muscle tissues, often inducing pain to the body.

On the other hand, the Golgi Tendon Organs (GTO), which is sensitive to changes in the rate of tension, tends to contradict the muscle spindles. Once stimulated beyond its threshold, the GTO can prevent the muscle spindle’s reaction, which in turn decreases tension and pain in the muscle. Experts call this “autogenic inhibition”, our muscles’ capability to relax and restore itself after experiencing high tension.

In simple terms, it’s our muscles way of using pain to relieve pain. By applying your own weight against the foam roller to pressure the painful areas of your body such as upper back, legs, shoulder and arms, the tight knots in your muscles will break up and relax. It’s like tenderizing your muscles so that they will be soft and supple.

In foam rolling, you control your own body’s recovery process. Because you can feel exactly what’s happening in your body, you know the exact trigger points to focus on and know how much pressure your body can exert and handle.


Important reminders when doing foam rolling exercises

  • Remember to breathe slowly. Avoid holding your breath throughout the whole process.

  • Start slowly. If you force it, your muscles will tighten causing more pain to already painful trigger points.

  • Roll slowly and properly. With your body weight, start applying enough pressure to a muscle group against the roller using the roller and your bodyweight for 20 to 60 seconds. Experts advise rolling not more than an inch per second.

  • Relax as much as possible. If you feel pain and your muscles tighten to the point that you cannot bear it, pause for a few seconds. Feel your muscle being released. After ten to thirty seconds, pain usually will lessen.

  • Do not force direct pressure on very painful areas. Instead, shift the foam roller and pressure on the surrounding muscle area before loosening the muscles in the whole area.

  • Remember foam rolling is not a pain tolerance test.

  • Avoid rolling over your bones, joints, neck and lower back.

  • Expect to feel sore a day after foam rolling.

  • Don’t forget to flush your system and fuel your muscles by drinking lots of water, sleeping well, and eating right.

  • Consult with your doctor if you have physical conditions.


How to choose the best Foam roller for you

There are all sorts of foam rollers to choose from. But how can you know what’s right for you? Manufacturers of foam rollers have designed various types of rollers to soothe pain with pain. Depending on the materials of the rollers, its price usually ranges from $15 to $100.

To choose the best roller suited for you, you should first know your pain tolerance. The more grooves and bumps a foam roller has, the more painful it is. And the bigger its surface area, the more tolerable it is. If you’re just starting, try the softest there is on the market because foam rolling exercise really hurts.

Soft and round Foam Roller. The simplest foam roller is always the most trusty and best for all ages and levels, especially for those with little pain tolerance. Makers usually offer it in different sizes, from 12 inches up to 36 inches. Just be sure to choose a foam roller which can maintain its density after long use.

Textured foam roller. Athletes use this kind of foam roller to improve their performance and reduce pain after intensive practice and workouts. These kinds of roller usually have bumps and grooves all over meant for deep tissue massage. The deeper and larger the bumps, the more painful its. If you have longer pain tolerance and you can handle the bumps


Foam Rolling Stretches for Starters

Now that you already have a foam roller that’s right for you, try out the following simple foam rolling exercises to get rid of aches and pains:

  1. MIDDLE BACK. For most, reaching our middle back muscles is very difficult. But with foam rollers, it can be as easy as pie. If you have a back problem, you should do this position very carefully or not at all. Put the roller horizontally behind your back. Put your shoulder blades on top of the roller to position your middle back against the roller. Interlace your fingers at the back of your head. Your knees should be bent and your feet flat on the floor. At this rate, your position should look like you’re about to do sit-ups but with a roller behind your back. While holding your head, look up and slowly lower your upper back like you're lying down but not too much to reach the floor. Feel the roller pushing up against your mid-back muscles and can feel it releasing the tension in your back. You can try rolling a bit to massage your back a bit. Hold it for 1-2 minutes and slowly roll up to a sitting position.


  1. SPINE. Stretching your spine with a foam roller is a good way of relieving muscle tension from a whole day of desk work. Using a foam roller, which is about one meter in length, lie on your back on top of it. Make sure the roller is parallel to your spine. Bend your knees and keep your feet flat on the floor. Lower your arms out to your side and raise them behind your head. Feel your shoulder blades squeeze as you lower your elbows to the floor. You can move to adjust to a position exactly right for you. Find your shoulder’s trigger points that need to be pressurized. Breathe regularly. Rest when you feel too much pain. Try to hold this position for 2 to 3 minutes.


  1. HAMSTRINGS. If you spend every day seated behind your office desk, your hamstrings usually suffer from your weight. Slowly place the back of one of your thighs on top of the roller. Your hands should be flat on the floor behind your back supporting your upper body. Roll the foam under your thigh until you find the area of your hamstring that’s painful. Focus the pressure of your weight there for a minute. Do the same thing for the other hamstring. You can also do both hamstrings at the same time. Just cross your legs to find the trigger points of each hamstring.


  1. CALVES. Exercise your calves by sitting on the ground with your stretched legs in front of you. Support your weight by placing your hands flat on the floor behind you. Put the roller below your calves. Roll it slowly up and down the back of your calves to your ankles. Do this for a minute.


  1. QUADS. Lie on the floor facedown with the foam roller positioned underneath your front thighs. You can place your elbows flat on the floor to support your upper body weight. By leaning your weight to the right, roll the foam up and down from your hips to your knees. Focus the pressure on your lateral thigh. Switch your weight to the left and do the same. Do both quads for a minute.


  1. SIDE STRETCH. Lie on your left side and stretch your left arms and hands flat on the floor. Place the roller underneath your armpits. You should feel your side muscles being stretched by the pressure of your weight. Just do minimal rolling movements here. You can do a thumb up for more effect. Do the same to your right side.


  1. OUTER THIGHS. Lie on your side and place the foam roller under your left hip. Your left hand should be supporting your all your weight. Use your abs and arms for balance while slowly rolling the foam up and down your hip and knee. Do the same for the right side for 1-2 minutes.


  1. INNER THIGHS. Lying face down stretch your right foot while you place your left inner thigh on top of a roller parallel to your body’s position. Use your elbows to support your body. Make sure your bodies don’t touch the ground. Slowly roll the foam from your knees up against your inner thighs. Do the same to your other inner thigh. You can also work your abs during this exercise.


  1. BOTTOMS. Sit on the foam roller. Your right leg should cross over your left knee. Your weight should be supported by your hands behind you. Slowly roll your butt cheek over the foam. Find the tight spots and put pressure on those. After 1-2 minutes, cross your left leg over your right knee. Do the same rolling method to the other butt cheek.


  1. GLUTES. While lying on the floor with the foam roller underneath your pelvic area, lift up your legs and bend your knees slightly. Hold tight to the end of the roller to maintain stability. Slowly bend your lower body to your right side in a twisting motion. Lift it your legs to your front and bend them again slowly to your left side. Make sure to direct pressure on the tight spot of your glutes, the upper part of your buttock. Do this movement for 1-2 minutes.


  1. SHINS. Put your both your shins on top of the rollers in a kneeling position. With your hands flat on the floor for balance, slowly roll the foam up and down your shins from your knees down to the front of your ankles. Twist a little to look for the tight muscles that need relaxing. Roll for 1-2 minutes.





Give Us Your Comments About This Page. This area is not for asking for help .


[1] Comment.
judhelman On Jun 28, 2017

What do you do if personal trainer says to do things too painful. I'm searching for gentle foam rolling apporaches for seniors and don't get anything that addresses that issue.

Dear Judhelman,
I am sorry to hear that you feel pain when you do certain exercises. I would recommend that you do one of the following:
  • Explain and insist that your pain is not transitory to your personal trainer. Show where the actual pain is and ask him/her if it is still ok for you to continue regardless of the pain? Ask your instructor to suggest alternative exercises to work the same muscle groups
  • There are lots of Foam rolling models out there. Try to do the exercises with the foam roller when your instructor is present and see if the pain diminishes or goes away.
If the pain persists even after these efforts, it is best to stop the exercises until after you have consulted your doctor.
Hope that this has been helpful.

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