I have recently started running. Well, it hasn’t been that recent, but let’s just say I’ve recently started running enough that I feel comfortable saying, “I’m a runner.” In my new title of “runner,” I’ve started talking to other runners about how they treat any muscle pain or tightness after their runs. To my disappointment, the answer was rarely, “I regularly seek out a licensed professional to manipulate my soft-tissue.” About 90% of people I talked to, even my own massage clients, said, “Get a foam roller.”

If you aren’t familiar with them, a foam rollers can look like anything from an over-priced bumpy PVC pipe to a glorified pool noodle that can be used as a tool for Self-Myofascial Release. That’s right I said “self.” Everyone can now be their own massage therapist, and I’m officially out of a job. Just kidding, of course! You can check out various foam rollers yourself at Foamrollers.com. They are actually great for self-care, and I actually have started recommending them to clients and other massage therapists. However, I quickly learned in the beginning that many foam rollers don’t come with adequate instructions. I actually started getting numerous appointments from people seeking relief from an injury they received from using a foam roller.

I promise that this wasn’t some genius money-making scheme:

  • Step 1) Recommend Foam Roller
  • Step 2) Client injures themselves
  • Step 3) Client has to get more massage
  • Step 4) PROFIT

I had made a mistake. I was relying on people to read instructions that may or may not exist/be adequate. Also, I assumed that everyone knew what a massage therapist knows. Here are a few things I have learned that I wanted to pass along to any person using a foam roller, and it’s even great to give to clients if you regularly recommend them.

  1. Stay away from small muscles. Save those tiny muscles (like the ones in your neck) for your massage therapist. A foam roller can give pretty firm pressure along a broad surface. It’s fairly easy to overwork small muscles, like the sternocleidomastoid, which really require a more delicate, specific, and knowledgeable touch in order to prevent further injury.
  2. More Pain = No Gain Foam roller fans often say things like, “Oh it is so painful, but it works!” Well, more pain during foam rolling doesn’t mean less pain in the future. If you are experiencing a 7 or above on a 1 to 10 scale, SLOW DOWN. Use static pressure instead. Static pressure means just allowing the foam roller to be stationary and sink into the skin (and fascia).
  3. SLOW DOWN The foam roller (or any massage tool) shouldn’t be used as a masochistic battering ram. You can’t beat the pain away. You will get more benefit, in my opinion, by going slower and allowing the muscle and fascia to melt into the foam roller. Go slow enough so that you can pay attention to what is going on in your body.
  4. Know when to quit Many people make the mistake of using the foam roller too much. They use it for hours on end to try to “rub the pain out.” Try it for a few minutes, and wait a several hours (even a day) before rolling again. Like massage, the results may not be immediate, but you may find that you have more relief in several hours or the next day than you did immediately after.

Originally appeared March 2013 – Massagelogos.blogspot.com