foam rolling

To complement “Keep Doing the Work You Love: 6 Ways to Roll Away Pain & Tightness” in the December 2015 issue of MASSAGE Magazine. Summary: A self-care regimen that includes foam rolling with rollers and therapy balls can help massage therapists manage their own pain and dysfunction.

Foam rollers and therapy balls for rolling out tissues are becoming more popular in gyms, physical therapy clinics, yoga and Pilates studios—seemingly everywhere you find athletes. Why are these foam tubes so prevalent—and what does rolling actually do for your body?

Therapeutic foam rolling affects both fascia and muscle tissues. When we roll out an area, we increase circulation in that area by freeing up the fascial binding, warming up the loose connective tissues, and releasing chronically held tension, or trigger points. By reducing binding in the connective tissues and tension in the muscle tissues, we can then stretch and strengthen more effectively and return our tissues to a state of balance and greater ease.


Fascia and Collagen

Let’s look at how therapeutic foam rolling affects fascia. Fascia is strong connective tissue with a high level of collagen fibers woven throughout. Collagen is very strong and is what makes connective tissue connect, or bind.

Simply put, collagen fibers, at their atomic level, have dangling hydrogen atoms. These hydrogens are attracted to the other dangling hydrogens from nearby collagen fibers. They reach out and grab onto one another and draw in close, connecting one collagen tube to another. It is collagen that makes up scar tissue; this connective quality of collagen is what makes scar tissue so dense and binding.

In addition to scar tissue, every other body system is wrapped in a layer of collagen-containing fascia. Every muscle, and every fascicle and fiber within each muscle, is wrapped in sheets of connective tissue. As layers sit on each other, their collagen fibers are constantly reaching toward each other, binding and drawing closer. Gil Hedley, in his famous “Fuzz Speech,” eloquently describes this binding of the layers of muscle.


Addressing Trigger Points with Foam Rolling

Once fascial binding has been reduced, we are more able to address tension in the muscle tissue itself. Trigger points are focal points of tension in muscle. There is still a lot of debate about what exactly a trigger point is, but we do know that a muscle without trigger points is free of tension; one with trigger points, which can feel like knots or taut bands, contains tension and can lead to local pain, joint pain, referred pain, loss of range of motion, and weakness in the muscle. By rolling over a tender area in a muscle, holding the roller in place on the tender spot for a while and then moving on, you can release tender trigger points yourself.


Foam Rolling Is Simple

Therapeutic rolling is a valuable tool for freeing fascia and tension in muscles. Rolling can be done just about anywhere, and anyone can do it. All you need is a foam roller and a small variety of balls of different densities to work various areas.

For a very small investment of time and money, you can take care of a wide range of aches in your body and live with greater ease and joy.


About the Author

Cat Matlock, L.M.B.T., R.Y.T., a trigger-point therapist and continuing education provider, runs a yoga studio in Asheville, North Carolina, where she offers group rolling classes. Check out her YouTube channel with rolling videos. She wrote “Keep Doing the Work You Love: 6 Ways to Roll Away Pain & Tightness” for MASSAGE Magazine’s December 2015 issue.