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Foam Rolling Basics

Perhaps you’ve wandered by the stretching area of your local gym and noticed a long cylinder made of foam laying there. What’s it for? Good question. It’s a foam roller and it’s used for self massage. I get a lot of questions about using the foam roller so let’s cover the basics.

Foam Rolling, aka Self Myofascial Release, is a form of soft tissue manipulation. Similar to manual massage, foam rolling uses body weight to exert pressure against a semi-rigid cylinder composed of foam. The pressure of the foam roll presses muscle and fascia against bone, thereby providing compression of the tissue.

Compression strokes are one of the most common methods of massage used to release muscle spasms, tension, and adhesions. Focused compression, also called trigger point therapy or neuromuscular therapy, is another type of treatment provided by foam rolling. Trigger points are taut bands, or knots, in muscle tissue that may refer pain to other areas of the body, such as tightness in the deep gluteal muscles that refer pain into the hamstring or shin. You can relieve a trigger point by direct steady pressure to the point. As time passes during the compression, the muscle will release and the pain will diminish. By treating the knot consistently over time it can be eliminated.

Using the Foam Roller:

  1. Place the foam roller on the floor, select the muscle that needs work and place it on the foam roller. Slowly move the target muscle over the foam roller back and forth, noticing tender or sore points.
  2. When you find a tender point, hold on that spot. Using your body weight to vary the pressure on the point, try to bring the level of pain to about 7 (on the “1 to 10” pain scale). Hold the point for up to 60 seconds.  After 20 to 30 seconds the pain will usually decrease to about 3. Then move on looking for other tender points. If the pain refuses to decrease after 60 seconds, move on to other areas and try again later or another day.
  3. Self-massage with a foam roller can cause discomfort. If so, it’s an indication that your muscles are tight, immobile and need attention. If foam rolling is painful then roll slowly and lightly at first. As the tissue starts to loosen up you will be able to roll with less pain and use more pressure.
  4. If you have a sore area that’s too painful to work on, just roll it lightly, or work around the edges. It may take days before an inflamed area calms enough to be worked on. Use Biofreeze or Heat Cream applied vigorously.
  5. Some areas of the body are quite easy to hurt and bruise with aggressive rolling. If this happens, stop rolling the area until the soreness and bruises have cleared, and then begin again with more caution.
  6. Roll on soft tissue but be careful on joints and bony protrusions such as on the spine.
  7. The human body responds to consistency. If you use the foam roller daily, you’ll get better results. Try to use it before and after workouts and stretching. This will help to mobilize your muscle tissue and re-enforce normal movement patterns.
  8. If using the foam roller isn’t effective, you may be using improper technique. Don’t roll too fast, and be sure to pause on tender or painful areas. Also, you must place adequate pressure on the target muscle to derive benefit from foam rolling.


Where can you get a foam roller? We carry several types of foam rollers at LA Sports Massage. Check out our products page. If you don’t live in the Los Angeles area you can easily find them for purchase online.

If you would like to attend our live workshop Foam Rolling & Flexibility for Athletes, please sign up for our newsletter. We will be announcing our upcoming workshops and clinics in our newsletter soon.

The Last Word – when you get a foam roller, remember to use it. It won’t help you if it gathers dust under your bed. I use my foam roller nearly every day. It’s an efficient and cost effective way to keep those knots at bay!

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Culver City
13205 W. Washington Blvd
Los Angeles CA 90066

1990 Westwood Blvd, #105
Los Angeles CA 90025

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