By: Courtney Edgecomb, DPT, PHRC Los Angeles
The very first time I came across a foam roller was in high school when I went to physical therapy for back pain. At that time, the main product was simply a long, circular white piece of soft foam. It wasn’t special but it certainly helped me continue playing soccer without pain. Fast forward into my college years and I found myself in physical therapy for back pain again after running a half marathon. That time around, foam rollers came in different colors and a couple different densities. Massage balls (and double massage balls!) were even coming around to the market, which made getting to the glutes and lower back a PT’s dream! I have to give a ton of credit to my PT after working with him for 2 years, but using a foam roller and massage balls regularly has been a critical part of my self-care routine to be pain-free and even run a marathon. But foam rollers have a greater purpose than pain relief, they also assist with posture, mobility, flexibility, blood flow, releasing trigger points and tight muscles, and decreasing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).1-5
“Foam rollers are used to restore alignment, improve body awareness, posture and flexibility, challenge neuromuscular control and alleviate muscular tension and pain” – Feldenkrais, 2009
It’s basically an all-in-one tool! So as we near 2020, there are even more products to choose from that you can conveniently pick up at Target along with your groceries. Foam rollers vary from light to extra firm, smooth to pointy bumps, small to large diameters, and cheap to expensive. Some vibrate, heat up, or even collapse to become travel-friendly (another PT’s dream). However, with all of the options it sometimes becomes tricky to find the one for you. Personal preference does play a factor in choosing a foam roller, but in general you want a foam roller that is dense and can provide a deep, focal pressure that can release trigger points and relax muscles.1-5 A foam roller should be generally uncomfortable, but tolerable. You should be able to breathe and not tense everything up while still feeling a deeper massage. I call this the “it hurts so good” tolerance level. My personal favorite and recommendation to every patient is the IntelliRoll because of a groove built for the spine and curves on each end that contour around the body. The grooves improve the comfort of foam rolling and allow great access to tissues around the spine and tailbone – a HUGE bonus for our pelvic pain patients.
The research on dosage for foam rolling is limited and varied, but using a foam roller for 30-60 seconds, 1-2x/day per muscle group or body area is effective.1-5 Those who are new to foam rolling or have poor tissue quality may need a bit longer. Changes in flexibility and range of motion were greater when combining foam rolling with stretching.2,5 Additionally, foam rolling before or after workouts has shown to reduce DOMS and improve muscle activation.1,2,5
While the pelvic floor muscles are generally the focal point of pelvic pain or dysfunction, they are usually not the only culprits. External muscles and fascia surrounding the pelvic girdle including the iliopsoas, adductors, quadriceps, iliotibial band, gluteals, piriformis, and hamstrings commonly have a relationship to hip, buttock, back, groin, and thigh pain. Since foam rolling can directly reach these muscle groups, it is a very effective part of a home exercise program for those with pelvic pain or pelvic floor dysfunction. By reducing tightness and trigger points, improving flexibility, and increasing blood flow, a foam roller will minimize impairments from the big muscle groups. Another benefit of the IntelliRoll is the ability to perform mobility exercises along the spine and tailbone, which improves posture and alignment to restore optimal muscle function. So follow along with the videos below to see how you can begin feeling better today by foam rolling!
Hopefully by now I have convinced you enough that whether or not you are in pain, recovering from an injury, or simply want to improve self-care, then foam rolling is your next best move. If you are experiencing symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction including pelvic girdle pain, groin pain, vaginal/penile/testicular pain, low back pain, pain with sex, urinary urge and frequency, constipation, and prolapse (to name a few), I highly recommend that you try out the IntelliRoll as demonstrated in the videos above. Don’t have one? No problem, use the code PHRCROLL on the IntelliRoll website for a 10% discount today! You have the choice of three different versions, but at PHRC we find that the IntelliRoll Sport is the most preferred by our patients for its light to medium pressure on sensitive tissues. For more information about foam rolling, watch my webinar on YouTube. But most importantly, schedule an appointment to see a pelvic floor physical therapist to discuss your symptoms and get a full treatment plan tailored to your needs – and to have a foam rolling buddy.
- Aboodarda et al. Pain pressure threshold of a muscle tender spot increases following local and non-local rolling massage. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders (2015) 16:265
- Beardsley et al. Effects of self myofascial release: A systematic review. Journal of Bodywork and Movement therapies (2015) 19, 747-758
- Curran et al. A comparison of the pressure exerted on soft tissue by 2 myofascial rollers. Journal of Sport Rehabilitation (2008) 17, 432-442
- Griefahn et al. Do exercises with a foam roller have a short term impact on the thoracolumbar fascia? A randomized control trial. Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies (2017):21, 186-193
- Kalichman et al. Effect of self-myofascial release on myofascial pain, muscle flexibility,and strength: A narrative review. Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies (2017):21, 446-451