Foam roller 101

My last post was all about what is a foam roller and why use it.  This time I’m going to give you some examples of what to do with it.


As I said previously, foam rollers are great for injury prevention, to keep muscles balanced, connective tissue healthy, and free from inflammation. But, most people don’t “meet” the foam roller until they’re already injured.  Here, I am going to go over the most common injuries and how to use a foam roller to alleviate tightness and heal the inflamed region.  First, lets briefly understand what’s going on in most injuries.  When I talk about injuries here, I’m not talking about a torn ligament or something very graphic like that.  I am referring to 90% of injuries that occur in runners, bikers, tennis players, and even sedentary people who have some kind of joint pain that is not “orthopedic,” meaning its not caused by something that needs surgery. One way I like to quickly assess the need for medical intervention is to ask these questions:

  • Is the pain constant or consistent with weight-bearing activities. Or, does it go away after using it for a while?
  • Is there a lot swelling or fluid in the joint? Typically micro tears don’t cause a lot of swelling.  An acute case can cause some, but its not significant.  This usually indicates something more serious.
  • When administering the foam roller technique, does the pain lessen?  Even if the tenderness on the trigger point doesn’t go away completely, it should lessen a little if its going to respond to this treatment.

Most injuries are caused by repetitive overuse, tight muscles, and muscle compensation which results in microscopic tears in connective tissue, causing inflammation (and pain).

This is usually characterized by a stiffness and pain in a joint that lessens once its “warmed up.”  For example, people who have heel pain (plantar fasceitis) have the most pain when they wake up in the morning (when the connective tissue is “cold” and tight), but the pain lessens as they walk around more and more.

Okay, now that we have that down, lets talk specifics:

Plantar Fasceitis:  sitting on the floor with your calf (bottom leg) on the foam roller (FR), cross legs and lift your hips off the floor.  Roll around and find a tender spot in the calf (it might be on the inside of the calf).  Once you find the spot, hold it. Don’t roll around on it like you’re giving it a massage.  This is a very common mistake and won’t give you the best results.  It might hurt but it will go away, and it will hurt less the next time.  I know your heel pain is down lower, but trust me.  This is the way to treat it.

Shin Splints:

Shin Splints are characterized by pain in the front of the lower leg (the shin).  Rolling on the back of the leg (same as above), helps, but also rolling on the front of the leg benefits some people as well, especially if the calf rolling is not alleviating the pain.

Next post:  stay tuned for more–there is still so much to go over!!  Alleviating knee pain, hip pain, and back pain.


4 thoughts on “Foam roller 101

  1. Ann colaco says:

    I have just stared using a foam roller,so this info. Is perfect for me. I found your blog be reading your arrticle in the paper today…march 28. I want to know more about using the roller for chronic neck and upper back pain, as that is my major problem. I am a very active person, and this pain is really rough for me. Also are you familiar with the MELT method? I just started that book.

    • Ann,
      Not only can the foam roller help for these issues, but I have some great exercises for that. Its a tricky area. I have heard of MELT and also just bought the book. 🙂 Its hard to suggest some things for you without seeing you and talking to you about it. The wrong thing could make it worse. I am hosting an injury prevention workshop on Saturday April 13th at 9 am. That might be something you’ll want to come to. If you have a foam roller, its only $25. click here for the link.
      Hope to see you. Thanks so much for reading AND leaving a comment!!! 🙂 Elyse

  2. I think I’m gonna try this… I had PF, but it was already cured last year through stem cell therapy. The treatment went well, it was a 3-week session with my ortho surgeon, Dr Purita, and I still feel no pain up to this day, so I can say that it was successful. I am a runner and I normally run for 2-3 hours each day. I wanted to keep my feet, hips, and legs in good condition and I think this exercise will help me. Thanks for sharing!

    • Michael,
      thanks for your comment! the foam roller is amazing at preventing and healing injuries. If you are running that high of volume, make sure you take at least one day of complete rest. This will actually make you stronger (I know it might not sound like it, but its true). Stay healthy! Elyse

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