- If you've ever had what you think are knots in your muscles, they're actually in your fascia — which surrounds your muscles and runs throughout your entire body.
- Foam rolling helps ease tension and work out adhesions in your fascia that limit your mobility.
- Regular use of foam rollers can decrease soreness, prevent injury, and make your workouts more effective according to physical therapists.
- There are a ton of foam rolling tools of all shapes and sizes out there — and only you can decide what works best for specific areas of your body.
If you're reading this, you've probably had your fair share of body pain and soreness. It could be deep muscle aches from a good workout or even just that special pain you get between your shoulder blades when you've been sitting at your desk too long.
Foam rolling can be a great way to relieve those aches and pains — and to improve your physical wellbeing in general. I talked with a dance instructor who swears by foam rolling to get more insight into exactly how it can help you.
Muscles, bones, internal organs, we hear about them all the time, and always looking for ways to treat them better or solve problems with them.
The missing piece of this puzzle that is rarely discussed is your fascia. Think about the bag you use every day to carry your stuff around. It probably has pockets and compartments to keep everything tidy.
Fascia does the same thing inside your body. It sheaths your muscles and organs, helping to keep everything in the correct place. Pretty much everything you do — or don't do — affects your fascia in some way. Everything from injuries to daily inactivity as you sit pounding away at your keyboard all day can cause fascia to tighten up and create adhesions — or areas where the fascia isn't sliding along as smoothly as it once did.
These fascial adhesions are sometimes called "knots" — and when you get a massage, they're what your massage therapist is targeting.
Think of foam rolling like a targeted massage you give yourself, using your body's weight against the roller to work out the tension in your fascia.
Shannon Townsend is a dancer, instructor, and director of Geek Slink Belly Dance in Minneapolis, Minnesota. With several years of experience under her belt, it was only a matter of time before someone asked her if she'd tried foam rolling.
When she first tried it, she said she quickly saw its benefits:
"I found almost instantaneous relief from some of my ailments. Belly dancers are plagued with some pretty interesting and specific areas of need when it comes to self-care, so it was great being able to target some of those areas — hello glutes! — and start opening them up a bit more. I think I started recommending it to others about five or six months later," Townsend told INSIDER.
Although she noticed some immediate relief, there's a learning curve for everyone — and it's important to remember that everyone's body and experiences are different.
"Foam rolling and myofascial release, in general, can be pretty misunderstood. Now that I understand that, foam rolling has helped me target the areas of fascia in my body that most need attention. I've spent a lot of time learning about the Anatomy Trains, which has increased my knowledge tremendously.
I've learned that foam rolling the front of my shin helps relieve pain and tension in my hip, that working the area under my ear and jaw relieves migraine pain and the spaces under my armpit help open my rotator. Foam rolling can open my body to movement, creating a deeper stretch and range. Over time this has helped my posture improve as a dancer and in general life, and it has relieved discomfort and pain on a regular basis," Townsend continued.
If you start to look at foam rollers, the sheer amount of choice can be pretty overwhelming.
They come in several shapes and sizes — I've even seen at least one that doubles as a water bottle when you're not using it for foam rolling.
Townsend has some good general guidelines for roller selection when you're just starting out:
"Know your limits of pain. Until you can focus your breathing and handle the discomfort, starting out with a softer roller from Gaiam or another popular brand may be a good idea. Work your way up to firmer tools and take your time.
"Make sure you are getting something that you feel supports your body too. I'm a big girl, so a lot of the small rollers were challenging for me when I started out. And don't be afraid to use other tools! Rolling requires a certain amount of strength, so if you need blocks or a chair to support your upper body when you're rolling your side, do it!
"Pick out good brands, too. You want equipment that will last you years! And don't be afraid to look online. I think the selection at mainstream stores is good, but it's way more varied and fun online," she said.
Also, be aware that different sizes work better for targeting different areas of your body.
"I use a TON of different size tools! I have a wand style that I use for targeted areas, myofascial release balls from tennis ball size to soccer ball size, a heated hard roller that does WONDERS on painful days, and a traditional foam roller. Which I should probably replace...the soft ones don't help me as much these days now that I have a tolerance for it.
"I think changing up the tools that you use is a great idea! Use what works for you and your specific ailments. Myofascial release isn't just a one-trick way. There are a myriad of ways to use it," Townsend told INSIDER.
Foam rolling can be intense, but it has definite benefits.
While foam rolling can be intense, it's never supposed to be the kind of sharp pain you can barely stand. If you experience any pain like that, you should probably stop what you're doing and make a doctor's appointment immediately.
But when it's done correctly, foam rolling can not only decrease soreness— it can also help improve your mobility, make your workouts more effective, and even prevent injuries according to physical therapist Stephanie Shane.
Avoid bones and joints when you're rolling.
Stick to softer areas and avoid your bones, joints, lower back, and neck. Rolling in those places will cause genuine pain at best and serious injury at worst.
Finally, don't be discouraged if you don't master foam rolling immediately — like so many things, you'll get better at it the more you do it.