How to use a foam roller to relieve neck, back and knee pain

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Self-myofascial release has been gaining popularity over the years as a way to release tight muscles and improve mobility. There are even entire workout classes devoted to foam rolling — arguably the most popular main stream tactic of engaging in myofascial release.

Research has been conducted exploring how foam rolling affects range of motion of joints and if it helps reduce muscle soreness. And the results are promising. One study found that after only three consecutive days of foam rolling, muscle fatigue was reduced and range of motion was increased. So aside from feeling relief in the moment, it’s possible that the benefits accumulate over time as well.

Dr. Karena Wu, physical therapist and owner of ActiveCare Physical Therapy in NYC and Mumbai, utilizes foam rolling with her patients at the office and teaches them how to use the tool at home. She explains that foam rolling is a self-massage to the soft tissues. “The foam roller compresses tissues and helps to release tight bands in soft tissue,” she says. “Massage is an ‘irritant’ to the soft tissues that brings blood flow, which then helps with fluid movement and promotes healing because blood carries nutrients and oxygen. So, getting this type of compressive massage therapy helps break up tightness or ‘knots’ in the tissues.”

“It also helps to promote fluid circulation, increases pliability of the soft tissues, reduces compressive forces on the joints (when the surrounding soft tissues are more flexible) and increases neuromuscular activity because the soft tissues will be more at an optimal resting length for function,” Dr. Wu adds.

I’ve encouraged my clients to foam roll on their own at the gym as part of their post-workout stretch and recovery routine, and they’re shocked by how good it feels (and how painful it can be on more tender spots, like the IT band.) Whether you dedicate time before or after each workout, attend a weekly foam rolling class, or roll it out in your living room, consistency will help you achieve more mobility, less pain and better muscle function.

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