An Acute Bout of Self-Myofascial Increases Range of Motion Without a Subsequent Decrease in Muscle Activation or Force.
This recently published article (March 2013) found that after foam rolling the quads for 2 minutes the subsequent knee range of motion was increased by 10 degrees for the following two minutes and 8 degrees ten minutes later. Participants did not experience a decrease in strength or muscle activation following the self-inflicted torture. This is good news.
What Are Those Fancy Cyclindrical-Hedrons?
Foam rolling is a popular self-myofascial release technique commonly thought to improve tissue recovery. Thus, its utilization in our office and other chiropractic, physical therapy, athletic training, and sports medicine facilities is on the rise. Some people can handle the pain that accompanies the release, but others choose not to be subjected to the barbaric practice. Pain is commonly a sign that you have a problem. It should not be ignored or masked. I teach patients to find their tight, tender spots like a predator on the hunt. Everyone has different bands of tissue that are restricting their motion – you need to find yours and work on it.
One Does Not Simply Foam Roll Without Excruciating Agony
First, scan across the general area by rolling lightly along the whole muscle belly. When you find an owie, compress (push into the roller – perpendicular) as much as you can tolerate and then shear (push across the roller by moving a body part into a dynamic stretch or just by quick back-and-forth movements). If this is pain-free, your tissue is unlikely to be injured – so don’t waste your time. You should be hunting for a slightly uncomfortable, but tolerable pain level. Keys areas to target to combat the rigors of most demands from sports, being a student, and desk work includes the entire posterior chain (especially the thoracic spine, hamstrings, calves), the lats and TFL/quads. Some movements and sports significantly overuse specific tissues, so demands on the body are different and require more attention to the pecs, posterior rotator cuff, glutes, and plantar fascia.
While this new research is important in that it substantiates that foam rolling has a measurable effect, it does not suggest that it lasts forever. You can see a 2 degree decline in ROM after just eight minutes – so how long does it take for the benefits to completely wear off? We don’t know.
Furthermore, a 10 degree increase in range of motion was measured to be significant, but why does that matter? What if their range of motion was within normal limits to start? What if it was severely limited because they had a recent traumatic injury? Should foam rolling still be implemented for that case? I say yay – as long as your tissues can tolerate it.
Any time tissues are overused, traumatized, or under-recovered they will exhibit predictable patterns of dysfunction. Loss of range of motion across joints, tenderness to the touch, asymmetric loading/movement during squats, increased pain perception, etc. The research demonstrates that we can influence these tissues without hindering them, albeit for a short period of time.
Priming the Nervous System
In order to make use of this narrow “window of opportunity” I suggest that patients immediately follow-up their foam rolling sessions with dynamic mobility drills, proprioceptive balance drills, or plyometrics, which all serve as a perfect transition to the actual workout, match, or game afterwards.
The soft tissues of the body are significantly neurologically inhibited after compressing and shearing across them with the aid of a foam roller. That means training and re-education for movement, mobility, and stability will be at a more efficient capacity. Make rolling a routine just like brushing your teeth and your body will adapt to the demands placed on it faster than they would have without the release sessions.
Do You Even Stretch, Bro?!
Plenty of athletes don’t stretch and consider it a waste of time. Well, that’s not completely true. Stretching in and of itself is less effective when unaccompanied by foam rolling. So roll out before you stretch. And if you do stretch, keep it movement-based prior to activity and static after completing the activity. Fascial-based stretching like Yoga is great for actually lengthening and remodeling dysfunctional scar tissues into elongated, functional tissues – just don’t do an intense session right before a competition or intense WOD lest you enjoy being prone to injury due to neuromuscular fatigue.
Incorporating foam rolling and a plethora of other myofascial release techniques into your fitness routine will make you a better mover. Move well, move often!
@DrChrisBakerDC | Sports Chiropractor
RockTape Tennis Director
4982 Cherry Ave. San Jose, CA 95118
(408) 448-4445 (office) | (408) 448-4447 (fax)