How to use a foam roller for exercises to release trigger points
When I go into many training areas now I see more and more big balls and foam tubes lying around. I never really got used to wearing them, but I see a lot of people, both men and women, and usually older people who are. So curiosity got the better of me so I decided to investigate what foam rollers are all about.
As I found out, they are not only used by older people, but also by athletes and physical therapists to inhibit overactive muscles. It is a way to stretch, but also to relax the muscles. Athletes use them to release trigger points, which activates muscle tissue by increasing blood flow. And what exactly are trigger points?
They can be described as muscles that cannot relax. The mode of action of the muscles is by contraction, and when they cannot release the contraction, the blood cannot enter the contracted part of the muscle. It’s actually quite easy to find these trigger points, since the metabolic activity in these muscles gives off heat and makes them painful to the touch. I’m sure we’ve all experienced these sensations with sore muscles.
The study of trigger points goes back at least 75 years, and we could have referred to them as muscle knots. They can be caused by repetitive movements, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, muscle overexertion, such as trying to lift something you don’t have to try to lift, or staying in a strange posture or position for a long period of time. Although athletes are more susceptible to developing trigger points, anyone can detect them in the course of everyday life.
So people use foam rollers, massage sticks, and yoga balls to massage these areas, improving tissue quality by breaking down fibrous tissue and increasing blood flow to problem muscles. It’s kind of like going to a message therapist at no cost. When people feel a tight spot, they simply stretch the muscle, promoting faster healing.
But physiotherapists now see this tool as more than just treating sore muscles. It is now believed that it can be used daily to help prevent trouble spots from arising. Using them on the hamstrings, for example, has been found to reduce arterial stiffness, which will lead to better blood circulation to fuel the muscles. By working the hamstring area, one study found significant increases in range of motion in less than ten seconds. It has also been found to increase strength, as various exercises have been devised for its use. More especially when using a ball, its instability will improve core muscle strength and balance.
If you are just starting out with a foam roller, you may want to start with one that is not very dense. A harder one will probably hurt a lot until the scar tissue breaks down and the muscles start to lengthen. While that happens, you can upgrade to a higher brand.