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North Melbourne AFL club Soft Tissue Coordinator in consultation with Dom Cadden – Australian National Champion Powerlifter.
You see them everywhere now, people rolling bits of their body over lengths of pipe or foam rollers in gyms, at warm-ups and after the game. But are they cruising for a bruising or rolling their way to recovery? We asked a man responsible for putting top-level Aussie Rules players back together every week to tell us what foam rolling is all about an how to do it effectively.
Foam rolling is the new generation of muscle release technique, as it is a form of my ofasical release in which the foam roller is used as an aid to get at muscle ‘trigger points’. It’s easy to identify trigger points – they’re the tight spots formed within muscles and they refer pain. Pain referral is most easily described as pain felt that occurs when pressure is applied to one area of the body, but the pain is felt radiating in another area. A common area for trigger points is the iliotibial band (ITB) – foam rolling a tight ITB causes pain to radiate up to the hip or shoot pain down the leg to the ankle.
I prefer a foam roller that has a bit of give in it. Muscles are meant to be spongy and soft, so using a pipe or something so hard that it doesn’t bend when you put your weight on it can do more harm than good.
Figure out what works well with your body in terms to how to lean into a safe position and apply body pressure to the foam roller. Make sure you aren’t putting your body in a position that is uncomfortable, as it can do more harm than good. Mind you, foam rolling isn’t meant to be a pleasant activity – you will feel discomfort or tenderness.
Foam rolling is designed for – and best used for – getting into our superficial skeletal muscles. That’s why they’re fantastic for our players’ gluteals, hamstrings, calves and quadriceps. Using a foam roller to get at your core muscles (deeper muscles) won’t do much good – usually these muscles will need specific exercises or treatment from a myotherapist or physiotherapist.
Think of foam rollers as an aid to help with general muscle soreness, stretching and warming up. They are not something that will help ‘fix’ bigger physical issues in the long term.
These days, you see foam rolling used as a form of stretching after boot camps or a long run, but at this time your muscles haven’t even started to recover yet as they’re still very warm. So there’s no use trying to put your whole body weight or force into rolling muscles as you can just cause a contusion (corkie) or swelling to the area.
Releasing the muscle with a foam roller helps to re-establish proper movement patterns and pain-free movement and, ultimately, this will enhance performance. Stretching alone is not always enough to release muscle tightness, which is why foam rollers have thrived in footy clubs, gyms and so on. Imagine a cord with tension in the middle of it. It won’t stretch much, therefore it won’t get to the optimal length it needs to be. This often occurs in the leg muscles due to running and other activities. Foam rolling can aid the release of this tension, which will enable the muscle to retain to its optimal length and position. This in turn will result in normal blood flow and function. That’s the goal of any corrective or recovery technique – to get you back to the point of normal functioning as if nothing was ever wrong.
Anyone can use a foam roller – runners, fitness fanatics, athletes and anyone exercising frequently can be using it daily.
Foam rolling a cheap and useful means of muscle repair, but that doesn’t mean it replaces good quality treatment – the muscles get used to the same amount of pressure, so after a while you may not have much change. Foam rollers aren’t the answer for people who need to ‘fix’ bigger physical issues in the long term, either.
Even if you’re getting results, it’s still great to see a my otherapist so they can see how you are progressing on your foam roller and help you in any other ways.
Melbourne Sports Myotherapy Clinic runs free foam rolling sessions. Anyone who wants to learn more about rolling technique can call 0429323134 or check outwww.melbournesportsmyo.com.au for more details.