4 Reasons You Should Get Friendly With a Foam Roller and How To Do It (3 minute read)

Whoda’ thunk: a cylinder of foam! In gyms and homes everywhere dancers, bodybuilders, yogis, weekend warriors or pain sufferers can be found on the ground, in compromising positions, with blue, pink, orange, black or marbled rollers. What is this simple tool? Should everyone own one? How does it work? In this short blog we will outline 4 reasons you should get friendly with a foam roller. 

 

First, let’s describe the thing. A foam roller is a cylindrical piece of extruded hard-celled foam. Initially made for packing, foam rollers are now synonymous with self-myofascial release, or SMR. They come in a variety of densities, colors, widths and lengths. Some are knobby. Some are smooth. There are even foam rollers that vibrate! 

 

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When did people start rolling around on these cylindrical packing cushions? According to physical therapist Stacy Barrows who filed the first foam roller patent, these slick, simple SMR tools were first used by, movement teacher and developer of the Feldenkrais method, Moshe Fledenkrais (click here to learn more about Moshe Feldenkrais or the Feldenkrais® Method).  Barrows, who is a Feldenkrais practitioner, says, “When Feldenkrais came to the United States in the mid 1970s, he was introduced to packing rollers—cylindrical rollers made out of foam. He quickly began to use those foam rollers in his system.” [1] In the late 1980’s former dancer, physical therapist, Feldenkrais practitioner and Pilates instructor Sean Gallagher introduced the idea of foam rolling to broadway dancers. In the 90’s physical therapist, founder, president and CEO of the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) Michael Clark introduced the idea of using foam rollers as an essential part of healthy training and corrective exercise (At Structural Elements we are NASM certified personal trainers with specializations in NASM’s corrective exercise protocol). Then in 2004 Stacy Barrows filed her foam roller patent. 

What benefit did all these PT’s and movement teachers see in pressing themselves onto a hard-ish cylinder? Interestingly, Feldenkrais used foam rollers as an awareness tool not as a strict SMR tool. Physical therapists like Sean Gallagher discovered that foam rollers could be used to treat stuck or painful soft tissue. They encouraged those under their care to press certain parts of their bodies onto the foam roller. With the hard floor on one side and a body on the other the foam roller would sink into soft tissue, creating a “release.” 

The “release” that comes from this self administered pressure is happening in the nervous system, muscles and fascia (connective tissue). SMR is fabulous tonic for your “neuro-myofascial” net. Here are 4 reasons you should treat your body with a foam roller:

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  1. SMR hydrates fascia 
  2. SMR wakes up your slumbering parts 
  3. SMR organizes your fascia  
  4. SMR decreases neural drive to overactive neuro-myofascia

 

In part two of this blog we will briefly describe how the first of these four benefits are derived from SMR and how you can safely get friendly with your foam roller.

 

[1]“Stacy Barrows: Foam Roller History and Practical Use.” On Target Publications, 10 Dec. 2017, www.otpbooks.com/stacy-barrows-foam-roller-primer/.