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Foam Rolling for Athletes

Posted 2/13/2017 by UHBlog

Is muscle pain and tightness slowing you down? We can help.

Foam Rolling for Athletes

Stretching after your workout may not be enough to release the muscle knots that put you at risk for injury. To really relieve minor aches and pains brought on by exercising, you may want to try a foam roller.

“Similarly to stretching a bungee cord with a knot in it, stretching your muscles may increase tension without releasing muscle knots,” says senior physical therapist Rosemary Hajdukovic, PT. “Foam rolling – or self-myofascial release – gives you the ability to apply pressure in precise locations to break up muscle knots and resume normal blood flow and function.”

Foam rollers come in different varieties, including harder and softer densities and smooth or studded textures. No matter your personal preference, foam rollers work by releasing trigger points, or muscle knots, to help your body return to proper, pain-free movement, Hajdukovic says.

In order to foam roll effectively and avoid injury, Hajdukovic recommends using the following foam rolling techniques:

  • If you find a tender spot, stop and hold for five to 30 seconds until you feel the muscle releasing
  • Breathe throughout your foam rolling session
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Roll slowly, covering approximately one inch per second
  • Wait 24 to 28 hours before focusing on the same area again

According to Hajdukovic, it’s okay to be sore the next day, but you should never feel excessive soreness.

In order to speed up recovery time and enhance performance, she suggests focusing on these four rolling "zones":

  1. Calves. “From the shoes we wear to the way we sit, our calves are in a shorted position most of the time,” says Hajdukovic. “This limits the range of motion of the ankle and reduces function up the rest of the body.”
    To target your calves, place one leg on the roller with your other leg on top of the first one. Raise your hips and slowly roll to the knee. After four rolls, set your hips on the ground and rotate your leg four times side to side.
  2. Quads. “Shortened quads can affect the function of the hips and put additional stress on the low back,” she says.
    The quads can be rolled by lying down in a plank position with the roller just above the kneecap. Slowly roll up towards the hip. After four rolls, bend the knee four times to stretch.
  3. Upper back. “The upper back is designed for rotation and extension," Hajdukovic says. "However, for most people, their posture causes this area to get stuck.”
    You can roll out your upper back by placing the roller just below the shoulder blades. Support your head with your hands and lean back into slight extension. Raise your hips and begin to roll toward the shoulders. Roll four times with the hips up, then set the hips down and perform four oblique crunches (side to side) with pressure on the roller.
    “Make sure not to put pressure on the neck,” she says. “That area can be more sensitive and requires advanced attention from a medical professional.”
  4. IT bands. “This group of muscles and tendons on the side of the thigh is infamously the most painful to roll on,” Hajdukovic says. “However, IT band foam rolling is one of the most beneficial types for active people.”
    Start in a side plank with the roller below your hip joint and use your top leg and hands for support. Roll along the outer thigh down to the knee.

For persistent muscle tightness or tightness outside of a rolling zone, you might want to see a sports massage therapist. Currently, three University Hospitals Outpatient Rehabilitation locations have sports massage therapists on staff:

  • Becky Cvelbar, PTA, LMT, at University Hospitals Mentor Health Center in Mentor, Ohio
  • Suzanne Hollo, PTA, LMT, at University Hospitals Elyria Medical Center in North Ridgeville, Ohio
  • Anne Kirk, PTA, at University Hospitals Samaritan Rehabilitation Services in Ashland, Ohio

You can contact any of them without a doctor's prescription. Call 216-286-REHAB (7342) to schedule an appointment.

Rosemary Hajdukovic, PT is a senior physical therapist at University Hospitals Mayfield Village Health Center Outpatient Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine. You can request an appointment with Hajdukovic or any other health care provider online.

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