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FOAM ROLLING - Getting Relief from Muscle Pain and Soreness

Updated on September 17, 2012

Almost everyone has had to deal with some type of muscle soreness throughout their lifetime. Some people are prone to chronic back pain, whereas others endure muscle pain from their jobs. Athletes, runners, fitness enthusiasts, and weight lifters deal with tight muscles on a regular basis. So what are people left to do? Not work out? Not work? Take pain-killers around the clock? Spend $ on repeated trips to the doctor or chiropractors? True, all those suggestions work, but they are not realistic for people to do on a regular basis and could end up costing a fortune. So what about Self Myofascial Release (also known as SMR or foam rolling)?

What is Foam Rolling?

Most people have never heard of Self Myofascial Release. Think of it as giving yourself a deep tissue sports massage. It is basically the same thing but without the hefty price tag. Whereas a deep tissue massage incorporates a licensed practitioner using their elbows, palms, and fists to dig into other peoples tight muscles, Self Myofascial Release has people using foam rollers to give themselves a deep tissue massage.

SMR, or foam rolling, is a technique that physical therapist and athletes use to relax overactive muscles. It is classified as a type of stretching of the muscle tissue and utilizes the concept of autogenic inhibition to improve soft tissue extensibility. This stretching relaxes the targeted, tight muscle and engages the antagonist muscle group.

Foam rolling can be effective in giving relief to the following areas: gastrocnemius, latissimus dorsi, piriformis, adductors, quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors, thoracic spine (trapezius and rhomboids), and TFL.

Different Types of Foam Rollers Available

Foam Rollers are appearing in fitness spas and gyms around the country. The rollers themselves can vary in size, thickness, and style. There are half cylinders and full cylinder rollers and the sizes range from 6”X36” / 6”X12”. Half cylinders cannot be used for Self Myofascial Release and are used for balance and stability training. Because of that, we will not be discussing half cylinders here, only full cylinder.

Foam rollers exist in a plethora of different densities. Usually the color of the roller allows the user to differentiate between the densities. The white foam roller is the most popular and most notable of all foam rollers. It is the softest foam roller available and recommended for people either experimenting with foam rolling or just beginning. There are also blue and black rollers available. These rollers are denser and apply more pressure on the trigger point of tight muscles. They are intended for more advance athletes and people with a higher threshold for pain.

How to Foam Roll

To begin foam rolling, consult your physician first to make sure that you are healthy enough to conduct Self Myofascial Release on yourself. After a doctor’s approval, the first thing you will need to do is to find an open area with lots of space available. Place the foam roller on the floor and position the area of your body (that you want to relieve or loosen) on top of the roller. Starting from the center of the intended muscle group, slowly roll your body over the foam roller toward your extremities.

Think of foam rolling as a seek-and-destroy mission. You want to roll slowly until you find any tight areas (trigger points). You will know when you find trigger points because the area will feel a sudden discomfort once the pressure of your body applies tension to the affected area. Some describe this discomfort as being tender or like a bruised feeling. Once you locate the trigger area, hold sustained pressure on it for approximately 30-45 seconds. You should feel the muscle release and your body sink further onto the roller. Continue rolling slowly toward your extremities until you find another trigger point. Hold and continue above steps.

Iliotibial Tract (IT) Band:

Lay sideways on the foam roller. Lift your bottom leg slightly off the floor. Keep your head in a “neutral” position, in relation to your shoulders. Start from the position just below the hip joint. Roll down the lateral thigh and stop when you get to the knee joint.


Position yourself on the foam roller like shown. On the side that you are intending to roll, cross your foot to your opposite knee. Use your opposite hand to pull the knee toward your shoulder. Roll on the posterior hip area.


Using the edge of the roller, position your hamstrings on the roll with your hips unsupported. Place your hands behind your body to stabilize and control your upper body. Roll from knee to posterior hip while keeping your quadriceps tightened. *Cross your ankles to increase the pressure and intensify the stretch.*


Place your quadriceps on top of the foam roller with your body in the prone position. Roll from pelvic bone to knee, emphasizing the lateral thigh. Maintain core stability. Do not sag your hips/abs in the middle, causing you to compensate by using your lower back.

Tensor Fascia Latae (TFL):

Take a similar position on the roller as you did for the quadriceps. Foam roll is placed slightly lateral to the anterior pelvic bone.


With your body prone on the floor, extend your thigh out to your side. Place the foam roll in your groin region. Roll down towards your knee being cautious of the adductor complex origin by the pelvis.


Lie to one side. Outstretch your arm and place the foam roll in the axillary area. Finally, rotate your arm so that your palm is facing up. Movements are minimal during this technique.


Lie in the supine position with your arms folded across your body to the opposite shoulder. While maintaining an abdominal draw-in position, bridge your hips off the floor until unsupported. Maintain your head in the “neutral” position and roll your mid back area on the roll.

Final Tips

Some other tips to keep in mind while foam rolling:

  • Keep your sessions to approximately 15 minutes when just beginning. It is best to foam roll after your muscles are already warmed up. A good time to do this is immediately after working out.
  • Make sure you drink lots of water after foam rolling. Just like a deep tissue massage, by foam rolling, you have released unstable ions of lactic acid into the blood stream. Drinking water helps flush them out of the body.
  • Do not roll over bones or joints. The idea behind foam rolling is to relax the muscles. By rolling over joints you can injure yourself by damaging tendons. Rolling over bones is painful and does not provide any benefit.
  • Take a day of rest in between sessions when first beginning.
  • Increase the frequency and time as you progresses.
  • The more you do it, the better you will get at it.


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