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By: Maggie Young

In a perfect world, we would all get daily massages after our workouts. But life is busy and post-workout massages aren’t practical for most of us for many reasons. The good news is that there is a convenient alternative in foam rollers.

Foam rollers are similar to deep tissue massages in that they provide pressure to sore muscles. They are portable and a must-have for any home gym, so there’s really no excuse notto use them.

How They Work

Essentially, foam rollers massage muscles via the stiff foam providing pressure to tight muscles. “Massaging muscles can help to release tightened muscle fibers and reduce trigger points,” Dr. Lisa Folden, PT, DPT tells Lively. A foam rolling routine may help decrease post-workout discomfort but should not replace static stretching. Dr. Folden says foam rolling should be more of an add-on to a deep stretch rather than a replacement.

how to foam roll

The Do's of Foam Rollers

Dr. Folden shares that you can reap the most benefits from foam rolling by completing it after a workout. Pre-workout foam rolling isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but just may not be as effective. There are two common foam rolling techniques: repeated rolling or static holds. Both can benefit you in different ways. Continual rolling is best for decreasing overall generalized muscle tension (think: rolling back and forth over the same area until you feel relief). If you have a specific sore spot, holding pressure until you feel a release is a better option.

The Don'ts of Foam Rollers

In general, it’s important to avoid rolling over bones or joints. Foam rollers are for muscles and muscles only. Another safety tip is to avoid rolling over your lower back and neck in order to protect your cervical and lumbar spine. In general, remember to stop if you are feeling intense discomfort with rolling. It can be a little uncomfortable rolling over sore muscles, but it should never cause a sharp ache.

Precautions

Foam rollers are a pretty safe modality for everyone. However, Dr. Folden advises against rolling if you have impaired skin integrity and sensation. “These groups include people with absent or limited feeling in their limbs/body and the elderly or those with thinner skin and increased risk of pressure sores,” shares Dr. Folden. As always, consult a doctor before starting a foam rolling routine, especially when coming in contact with previously injured areas.

Long-Term Mobility 

"Foam rolling can play a small but valuable role in the maintenance of mobility in that it can enhance muscle recovery after workouts, which may decrease injuries,” Dr. Folden tells Lively. “Lessening the chances of injury will always have beneficial effects on our long-term mobility and independence.” In general, mobility is a balance between strength and flexibility. The foam rolling alone won’t enhance your mobility, but when paired with a fitness regimen and static stretching routine, it will keep your mobility at its best.