How to Use a Foam Roller

How to Use a Foam Roller for Myofascial Release

Woman sitting on foam roller
how to use a foam roller. Victoria Lee/Photodisc/Getty Images

Foam rollers offer many of the same benefits as a sports massage, without the big price tag.

A foam roller not only stretches muscles and tendons but it also breaks down soft tissue adhesions and scar tissue. By using your own body weight and a cylindrical foam roller you can perform a self-massage or myofascial release, break up trigger points, and soothe tight fascia while increasing blood flow and circulation to the soft tissues.

How It Works

The superficial fascia is a soft connective tissue located just below the skin. It wraps and connects the muscles, bones, nerves and blood vessels of the body. Together, muscle and fascia make up what is called the myofascia system. For various reasons including disuse, not enough stretching, or injuries, the fascia and the underlying muscle tissue can become stuck together. This is called an adhesion and it results in restricted muscle movement. It also causes pain, soreness and reduced flexibility or range of motion.

Myofascial release is a body work technique in which a practitioner uses gentle, sustained pressure on the soft tissues while applying traction to the fascia. This technique results in softening and lengthening (release) of the fascia and breaking down scar tissue or adhesions between skin, muscles and bones.

Myofascial release has also been shown to relieve various muscle and joint pains such as IT band syndrome and shin splints as well as improving flexibility and range of motion.

Foam rollers are inexpensive and with a bit of experimentation you can target just about any muscle group. The latest style of foam roller, the Grid Foam Roller, has a unique design and construction that provides a more targeted trigger point self massage.

All Foam Rollers
The Grid Foam Roller | Read Review | Buy the Grid Foam Roller from Amazon 
Thera-Roll Textured Foam Roller | Read Review | Buy the Thera-Roll Foam Roller from Amazon 
Perform Better Elite Molded Foam Roller | Read Review

Tips for Using a Foam Rollers

Erik Isakson/Blend Images/Getty Images

Using a foam roller is simple, but working some areas may take a bit of practice and some body contortion. You start by finding a relatively open area with some floor space. Position your body with the area you want to work on top of the foam roller. Your body weight creates the pressure that massages and releases tight spots in the fascia. You control the pressure by applying more or less body weight on the foam roller and using your hands and feet to offset your weight as needed. It's helpful to try a variety of positions and see what works best for you.

Tips for Using a Foam Roller

Always check with your doctor before using a foam roller for myofascial release.

  • Perform foam roller sessions when your muscles are warm or after a workout.
  • Position the roller under the soft tissue area you want to release or loosen.
  • Gently roll your body weight back and forth across the roller while targeting the affected muscle.
  • Move slowly and work from the center of the body out toward your extremities.
  • If you find a particularly painful area (trigger point), hold that position until the area softens.
  • Focus on areas that are tight or have reduced range of motion.
  • Roll over each area a few times until you feel it relax. Expect some discomfort. It may feel very tender or bruised at first.
  • Stay on soft tissue and avoid rolling directly over bone or joints.
  • Keep your first few foam roller sessions short. About 15 minutes is all you need.
  • Rest a day between sessions when you start.
  • Drink plenty of water after a session, just as you would after a sports massage.
  • After a few weeks, you can increase your session time and frequency if you choose.
  • Do not use a foam roller without your physician's approval if you have any heart or vascular illness or a chronic pain condition.

Foam Roller Exercise for Glutes and Hamstrings

Foam Roller Exercise - Hamstrings
Foam Roller Exercise - Hamstrings. Photo � E. Quinn

To work your glutes (butt) and hamstrings (back of the thighs) start by sitting on the roller with the soft, meaty part of your buttock directly on top of the roller. Begin slowly rolling back and forth and slightly side to side to release any tight sports in the muscle.

Slowly roll down your leg toward your knee and work the hamstrings in the same way. (picture above). Change your position from side to side to work the entire muscle. Slowly roll from the buttock down to the knee pausing on any tight or sore spots.

Increase or decrease pressure by using one or both legs at a time. Roll with your feet turned in and out to cover the entire muscle group.

Foam Roller Exercise for the Quadriceps

Foam Roller Exercise - Quadriceps
Foam Roller Exercise - Quadriceps. Photo � E. Quinn

Releasing your quadriceps (quads) is one of the easiest foam roller exercises. Simply lay on top of the roller using your hands for balance and work the front of the thigh from the hip down to the knee.

You can perform this exercise with one or both legs on the roller, depending upon how much pressure you can handle or desire. If you want less pressure, keep one leg off the roller and use the foot to support some of your body weight.

Calf Stretch with the Foam Roller

Foam Roller Exercise - Calves
Foam Roller Exercise - Calves. Photo � E. Quinn

Position the roller under the calves. Using your hands for support, slowly roll from the knee down to the ankle pausing on any tight or sore spots.

Roll with your feet turned in and out. Keep toes flexed and pointed to work the entire muscle group.

Increase or decrease pressure by using one or both legs at a time, or placing one leg on the other for even more pressure.

Foam Roller Stretch for the IT Band

Foam Roller Exercise - IT Band
Foam Roller Exercise - IT Band. Photo � E. Quinn

Using the foam roller on the IT band can be painful, but many people find it's one of the most useful stretches you will do with the foam roller.

Lie on the roller on your side, with the roller positioned just below the hip. Your top leg can be in line with the bottom leg if you want a lot of pressure. Or, bend it in front of you to unload some of your body weight and provide better balance.

Use your hands for support and roll from the hip down to your knee, pausing on any tight or sore spots. Repeat on your other side.

How to Use a Foam Roller on the Upper Back

Foam Roller Exercise - Upper Back
Foam Roller Exercise - Upper Back. Photo � E. Quinn

Use a foam roller to massage and release the muscles of the upper back (the trapezius and rhomboids) by positioning the foam roller beneath your shoulder blades. Support your head with your hands and keep your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.

Use your feet to control your motion and pressure and start rolling toward your head, pausing at any sore spots. Roll back down to the mid-back and repeat.

Continue Reading