CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Dear Cindy,
My trainer recommended I use a foam roller because I have pain in my hip area after my workouts. I love to challenge my body, so I hit it hard, but I am left with really tight muscles. He says the roller will help me recover from workouts like a massage would, but when I tried rolling on it in the gym, it was pretty painful. I'd like to know if this tool has merit, or is it just all hype? -- Greg
Contrary to slick marketing and hype that drives most of today's fitness products, I honestly believe the foam roller is one of the best investments active people can make. It is one of the simplest yet most-valuable pieces of fitness paraphernalia created in the past 15 years to treat tight, sore muscles. Called the poor man's massage therapist, the foam roller's use for therapeutic reasons continues to grow.
I'm wholeheartedly in favor of foam rolling for anyone who experiences painful knots from sports, exercise, running, cycling, etc. Of course, you should always check with your physician or sports medicine specialist if your hip pain is due to more than tight, stiff muscles after exercise.
What is it?
It is a foam cylinder, six inches in diameter, that eases tension and mimics a deep gliding massage using your own body weight and agility. It has evolved from a "one density fits all" to having varying degrees of firmness, which means the roller can be beneficial to all ages and to varying degrees of muscularity.
Think about it. You know how scratching your back on a door frame feels so good? Why? Because you can control the amount of pressure exactly where you want and need it and you need no help from anyone.
How does it work?
Just as a massage therapist does during a deep tissue massage, a foam roller can locate trigger points -- tender or painful areas -- and breaks down soft tissue adhesions and scar tissue. Some muscles (like hip flexors) and ligaments (like the iliotibial band) are prone to shortening, which make them difficult to stretch. Foam rolling can apply deep pressure massage to such areas and lengthen shortened tissues, thereby preventing physical imbalances that can increase the risk for injury. It also stretches muscles, soothes tight fascia and increases blood flow and circulation.
Why does exercise sometimes cause pain?
The superficial -- just beneath the skin -- fascia is what is referred to as connective tissue. It connects the muscles, bones, nerves and blood vessels of the body. Together, muscle and fascia make up the myofascia system. Various factors, including poor mechanics, injury, overuse and lack of sufficient recovery, can cause the fascia and underlying muscle tissue to become stuck together. This creates an adhesion-scar tissue, which restricts muscle movement, causes pain and limits range of motion.
Foam roller benefits