Foam rollers are an effective means of self-massage between massage appointments, and have become essential tools to many individuals’ fitness and self-care regimens. Although these devices may look somewhat unimpressive, the benefits of their use are not. They can help stretch and lengthen tight muscles, increase circulation, provide greater range of motion, release trigger points, and free up fascial restrictions.
This article demonstrates two of my favorite stretches using foam rollers, and provides some resources for additional stretches and information.
Disclaimer: As with any new exercise program, before attempting any of the stretches below, it is recommended that individuals consult a physician or other health care professional. The author will not be held responsible for any injuries incurred as a result of performing these exercises.
Chest Stretch - Pectoralis, Anterior Deltoids, & Biceps
Performing the following chest stretch has become invaluable in my own self-care as a massage therapist. In stretching the pectoralis (major & minor), deltoids, and biceps, internally rotated or “hunched” shoulders from hours at the desk, behind the wheel, or at the massage table can begin to return to a more neutral position. This often helps alleviate strain and pain in opposing back muscles.
To perform the stretch:
- Begin by sitting on the edge of the foam roller, with the end directly underneath your sacrum. Knees are bent and feet placed on the ground for stability.
- Slowly lie back on the foam roller, so that it runs directly beneath your spine.
- Adjust your position so that the neck and head are fully supported by the roller.
- Slowly stretch your arms out into a “T” formation, with palms facing the ceiling.
- As you begin to feel the stretch in the chest, try to visualize taking cleansing breaths into the tighter muscles or areas.
- Hold this position for 15 seconds while taking slow, full breaths; and then bring the arms back in and sit up carefully.
- Repeat one to two more times if you would like, noticing if the hands come to rest closer to the floor than when beginning the stretch.
- For a more thorough stretch that includes the latissimus dorsi and triceps, after completing the “T” formation, repeat the stretch with the arms stretched out in a “Y” formation. Hold for 15 seconds, and then repeat again with arms extended overhead in an “I” formation (arms extended straight above the head).
IT (Iliotibial) Band Stretch
I learned this stretch while riding on the AIDS LifeCycle…and instantly loved and hated it’s more “therapeutic” quality. Many of my clients with IT band issues report a sharp decrease in symptoms when consistently “rolling” their IT band out.
The IT band connects to tissues on the lateral aspect of the knee joint and patella (knee cap), tightness in the IT band and/or adhesions to the underlying quadricep muscle may pull on the knee and illicit pain. This stretch helps to lengthen the IT band, and gets it moving more freely over the quadricep muscle.
To perform the stretch:
- Begin by lying on the roller on your side, just below your hip (top of the IT band). The roller will be perpendicular to your body.
- Support yourself using your hands in a comfortable “push-up” type position.
- The top leg can be bent with the foot on the ground to ease the amount of pressure placed on the IT band.
- Slowly begin to roll your IT band over the roller by using a slight pull in your arms.
- Slowly roll down the length of your IT band, until the roller is just above your knee. As you roll, slow down as you go over any tender spots.
- Then reverse the movement and roll back up to your hip.
- Repeat two to three times on one leg, and then switch legs.
Another description of this stretch can be found in the link included below.
As I mentioned earlier, these two stretches are just two that I happen to have an affinity for. However, foam rollers can be applied in the same way to many large muscle groups. The article “Foam Roller Exercises for Easing Tight Muscles” on About.com illustrates some other stretches, and explains the principles behind foam rollers in a bit more detail.
If you are interested in purchasing a foam roller, I prefer the more spongy, often white rollers, to the high density black rollers. The black rollers are excellent, but often make the stretches a bit too painful for me. At home, I have a 6″ by 36″ foam roller such as these made by Isokinetics, Inc. You can order them from Amazon.com, or purchase them at gyms and sporting good stores such as Sports Basement for usually less than $15.
The many professionals advocating the use of foam rollers in PT clinics, massage studios, yoga centers, and gyms, speak volumes about the effectiveness of these simple but powerful tools. Their ability to improve mobility, circulation, and comfort within one’s body, make them a wonderful adjunct to regularly scheduled bodywork, and self-care efforts.