Foam rolling is a self-myofascial release (SMR) technique that is used by athletes and physical therapists to inhibit overactive muscles. This form of stretching utilizes the concept of autogenic inhibition to improve soft tissue extensibility, thus relaxing the muscle and allowing the activation of the antagonist muscle.
This technique can be effective for many muscles, including: gastrocnemius, latissimus dorsi, piriformis, adductors, quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors, thoracic spine (trapezius and rhomboids), and TFL. It is accomplished by rolling the foam roller under each muscle group until a tender area is found, and maintaining pressure on the tender areas (known as trigger points) for 30 to 60 seconds.
A common misconception is to use this technique for the iliotibial band. The iliotibial band is not a muscle but rather a fibrous reinforcement of the fascia lata. While there is currently a lack of research completed with actual foam rollers, it is widely recognized that foam rollers have the same effects as deep-tissue massage. There has been lots of research on the effects of massage on the body much of which can also be carried over to rolling.
The equipment that is used for foam rolling usually consists of a foam cylinder of various sizes; commonly 12 inches long, 6 inches in diameter. However, longer foam rolls up to 36 inches in length are produced for rolling over certain muscles in the back. A variety of foam roller densities exist, often denoted by the color of the roller. Those new to foam rolling, or those who have particularly tight muscles or severe trigger points, often start with a softer foam roll. White rollers are typically softer, while blue and black rolls tend to be much firmer.
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