Does Foam Rolling Really Release Fascia?

Foam rollers are the hottest tool for self-care today. Many of my clients say they have watched videos or read instructions in magazines and use them for self-myofascial release. However, they only get limited and temporary relief from tightness. It looks simple enough. What could be going wrong? Does foam rolling even release fascia?

To figure that out, we need to understand fascia. Fascia is a three-dimensional web of tough connective tissue. It pervades the entire body down to the cellular level. You have probably seen it before in the tough, glistening layers of a steak. Or in the thin, white, sticky layers of chicken that are difficult to cut. Repetitive stress, injury, trauma, or disease processes cause fascia to solidify and harden. A classic example would be a tight, hard IT band. Tight fascia pulls on adjacent tissues, and in our example of the IT band, could lead to knee pain, a pulled hamstring, pelvic rotation, hip pain, etc.

foam femaleFascia is made of collagen, elastin, and a gel-like ground substance. For permanent, physiological change, the collagenous portion of fascia must release. Research* has shown that the collagenous component of fascia releases with a low load of pressure over an extended period of time (minimum 3-5 minutes). This is the method used in John Barnes Myofascial Release. Any releases that occur before 3-5 minutes affect only the elastic component of fascia.

When we understand fascia, it is easy to see why my clients weren’t getting a true release. In demonstrations, foam rolling is done much more quickly. It is also done with an aggressive amount of force. This means that only the elastic component releases. Fascial creep eventually causes the tightness to return. Just like a rubber band that stretches, but then shortens to its original length.

So do I tell my clients to toss their foam rollers? Not at all! They can be helpful tools for self-myofascial release if used properly. Follow these principles used in John Barnes Myofascial Release:

foam female2• Find an area of tightness or tenderness with the foam roller.

• Wait a minimum of 3-5 minutes for the release to begin. (This will feel like butter melting or a piece of taffy being gently stretched)

• Follow the release three-dimensionally to the next area of tightness or tenderness, then repeat steps one and two.

• DO NOT force the tissues.

• Stay aware of what you are feeling at all times.

Don’t have foam rollers at home? Use these principles with any self-care tool including Nola Rolas, 3” or 4” balls, tennis balls, or racquetballs.

I would love to hear about your experiences with self-care and the results you’ve gotten. Your questions are always welcome.

*From research presented at the International Congress on Fascia. For more information visit www.fasciacongress.org.

Comments are closed.