Sports Therapy

How to effectively use the foam roller to reduce muscle stiffness

On December 27, 2016
By Dr. Nekessa Remy | 0 Comments

I am a total believer in giving patients active rehabiliation exercieses to do at home to help maintain muscle function. I have been recommended foam rollers to my patients more and more over the last year. They are great tools, which mimic myofascial release techniques and have been shown to increase range of motion and alleviate pressure points. Foam roller massage uses the upper body to provide the rolling force. Therefore you are able to control how much force/pressure you apply to the tissue that you are working on. A recent study found that use of the foam roller was able to increase the range of motion of hamstrings in just one sitting!

So how does it work?

The pressure of the foam roller helps to improve blood circulation throughout the skin, muscles, tendons and fascia. Improved circulation results in more efficient exchange of nutrients and waste products and the cellular level, leading to better cellular function. This improvement in vascular function reduces the stiffness in muscles, tendons etc and results in increased range of motion.

While the foam roller can be used on almost any area of the body, I particular recommend using the foam roller on some of the lower body muscles including the gluteal muscles and iliotibial band. There is not as much dense tissue in the upper body and our athletes are not prone to the same frequency of upper body strains as lower. The hamstrings and hip flexors seem to experience the most muscle strains, so we concentrate on those areas.


Foam Rolling Your IT Band

Start by lying on your side, support your body weight with your legs and arms, and lie with a foam roller or ball under the upper, outside portion of your thigh – this is the proximal portion of your IT band. Use your legs and arms to roll the length of your IT band along the ball, traveling right down to just above your knee joint. As you get closer to your knee, you may feel more tenderness, so be prepared to use your arms and legs to ease pressure off of your IT band.

Roll back towards the upper portion of your IT band, and continue back and forth in this fashion for a few passes.

Maintain steady breathing, and feel free to linger and increase pressure whenever you come to points that are especially taut or tender.

Switch from leg to leg between sets to ensure that both of your IT bands are worked out.

Foam Rolling Your Gluteal Muscles

Place the foam roller under your gluteal area and take one leg and cross it over the leg to be worked. Lean slightly towards the glute side that you are aiming to work out.

Support your body weight by placing both hands on the floor behind your body. Roll your  gluteal muscles by moving the foam roller up to the top of the pelvis then down towards your “sits” bones. Repeat on the other side.

Foam Rolling Your Quadriceps

Simply lay on top of the roller and place your hands in a plank position for support. Roll upon the foam roller until you reach the pubic bone and then roll down until you reach the top of your knees.

Foam rolling is hard work that can even border on being painful. Good massage work, and correspondingly good self-massage work, may be uncomfortable, much like stretching. Therefore, it is important that athletes learn to distinguish between a moderate level of discomfort related to working a trigger point and a discomfort that can lead to injury. When an athlete has completed foam rolling, he or she should feel better, not worse. And the rollers should never cause bruising.


Its important to note that foam-roller massage is not a replacement for proper stretching, warming up or cooling down, but it can be used as a tool to decrease soreness and reduce tightness through increased blood circulation and flexibility.

For more information contact Dr. Remy at or call 905-820-7746

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