Foam Rolling: Things You May Not Know About Your Cylindrical BFF
This month’s Q&A is all about the runner’s cylindrical BFF, the foam roller.
Q: How often should a runner be using the foam roller?
A: If you are running regularly I suggest using the foam roller everyday regardless of whether you ran that day or not. You want to think of the foam roller as a kind of self massage, but remember it cannot take the place of human hands. If you are running regularly it is also a good idea to get an actual massage at least once a month (if you can swing it).
Q: Is it best to use it before, after or both before and after a run?
A: I recommend using the foam roller after you run. I find it works well when coupled with a comprehensive stretching routine. Hopefully, you are stretching after EVERY run and this way the foam roller will just be part of your routine.
Q: How long should you stay on a specific tight spot? Is it time based or is it until it feels better?
A: When instructing patients I really don’t have them stay on a specific spot for any length of time but rather “roll over” the length of the area you are rolling (your ITB, hamstring, quads, etc) for a few minutes on each area.
Q: How much foam rolling is too much?
A: This is a tough question to answer due to the lack of scientific, peer reviewed research on foam rolling. My advice is if you are rolling on the foam roller and you are experiencing increased pain in the areas as a result you may want to scale back on the foam rolling.
Q: Are there instances when foam rolling is a bad idea?
A: Of course you want to check with your physician or physical therapist before starting any exercise program. But a huge contraindication for foam rolling would be rolling on the spine if you have osteoporosis or osteopenia. Foam rolling can be a bit too aggressive over the joints in the spine for someone with fragile bone density. I also recommend that you do not roll directly over joints (the knee joint, ankle joint, or greater trochanter aka the outside part of the hip) as this can be quite uncomfortable and place undue pressure over the joints.
One other thing to remember: if you are running regularly you can NOT just foam roll….it is not a cure all! The foam roll can be used as part of a comprehensive program that involves your running workouts, daily stretching and a regular strength training routine for the core, upper and lower extremities. If you are having regular pain with running that does not resolve after 3-4 weeks or after complete rest (not running at all for a few weeks) go to a doctor or physical therapist. It may be something that can be addressed by a health care professional and you do not want an acute pain (that can be easily treated) to turn into something chronic.
Karen Litzy, MSPT graduated from Misericordia University with a Masters Degree in Physical Therapy. She has over 14 years of experience as a licensed physical therapist in a variety of settings including inpatient hospital, school systems, outpatient orthopedic clinics, and Broadway shows. She is currently the owner of a concierges, home health physical therapy practice in New York City. She is also the host of the internet radio show Healthy Wealthy & Smart on www.talkingalternative.com. You can learn more about Karen on her website www.karenlitzy.com.