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As I write this article, I am 36 weeks pregnant, sore and achy. Throughout my pregnancy, I have experienced occasional leg cramping in my calf muscles. I try my best to stay hydrated and take a daily multivitamin to help prevent these cramps, but sometimes they come anyway. Whenever my muscles feel especially tight or achy, I turn to a tennis ball, of all things, to help alleviate the pain! I use a tennis ball for myofascial release, a self-massage technique that helps loosen tight muscles.

assorted foam rollersI chose a tennis ball for this technique because it is a small, portable tool I already had at home. However, foam rollers are the most common tool used for myofascial release, as they are designed specifically for this purpose. If you belong to a gym, perhaps you have seen people using foam rollers, or maybe you have tried using one yourself! Increasingly, foam rollers can be found among the equipment available for use at gyms and fitness facilities, as people like to use them in their pre- or post-workout stretching routines. They can also be purchased for home use at a reasonable cost; the one-time purchase of a foam roller is no more than the price of a single professional massage!

Regular foam rolling has many benefits. In addition to soothing sore muscles and relieving pain, it can increase your range of motion, improve flexibility, increase circulation and blood flow, contributing to faster recovery after strenuous activity.

The OSU Health Plan offers the following four tips for beginning a foam rolling routine:

  1. Ease into it. Foam rolling can be painful at first, so only go as long as you need with the pressure necessary to loosen muscles without causing discomfort. Work an area for 30 seconds to two minutes or until you feel your muscle(s) begin to relax. If the area is especially tender, start by rolling just five to ten seconds at a time, resting a day in between sessions. You may also choose to start with a softer roller and slowly progress to a denser roller as you become more accustomed to the process.
  2. Use slow and controlled movement. Give your muscles time to adapt to the pressure you are applying to them by focusing on slow, gentle movements. Aim to cover no more than one inch per second.
  3. Avoid joints and your lower back (lumbar spine). Apply pressure only to muscle tissue to prevent injury and further discomfort.
  4. Prioritize. If you have multiple tight areas, focusing on all of them every day may be time consuming and unrealistic. Start with the areas you deem most beneficial to work on first, following the tips listed above. Gradually work in other areas as you become more comfortable in your routine.

Finally, keep in mind that foam rolling may not be for everyone. If you have range-of motion issues, a heart condition, chronic pain, or if you are recovering from an injury or procedure (such as a hip-replacement), consult a doctor, personal trainer or physical therapist before foam rolling.

 

Sources:

Bauer, B. (2018). Myofascial release therapy: Can it relieve back pain? Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/back-pain/expert-answers/myofascial-release/faq-20058136

Ignite Peer Fitness Trainer Program (2016). Mobility Rollers. https://cdn1.sph.harvard.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/143/2016/10/8_2016-Mobility-Rollers.pdf

Martin, M. (2015). Foam Rolling 101. American Council on Exercise. https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/5624/foam-rolling-101

Schebek, S. (2018). Four Tips for Foam Rolling. OSU Health Plan. https://osuhealthplan.com/content/four-tips-foam-rolling?place=holder&utm_source=osuwmc_marketing&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20181101__yhpenews

 

Written by: Jenny Lobb, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Franklin County, lobb.3@osu.edu

Reviewed by: Misty Harmon, Family and Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Perry County, harmon.416@osu.edu

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