The foam roller is a piece of gym equipment that’s used for instability exercises as well as for massaging tired muscles. You’ll find the foam roller in most gyms these days, or you may have one at home.
How often should you foam roll muscles, using the roller to care for your tired, achy muscles after a strenuous workout session? Does it matter which kind of roller you use? There are dimpled and flat rollers and ones that vibrate and ones made from hard materials- you can find the perfect roller for your needs and preferences.
No matter which kind of roller you use, I would give the same advice as to how often you should foam roll. Let’s look at how this piece of equipment works and what it can do for you and then discuss how often you might need to massage muscles with it.
Treating Soft Tissue Dysfunction with Foam Rolling
The foam roller is typically used to put some pressure on a specific area of the body, in conjunction with the user’s own body weight. Most people use the foam roller to treat soft muscles as well as connective or soft tissue. They make use of rolling action and end up giving themselves a massage or something similar to it in those areas of soft tissue. What this does is activate a releasing mechanism which health and fitness experts will call SMR, or self-myofascial release.
Now, that’s the same kind of muscular release that you would get if you were to visit the physical therapist or massage expert. You’re not going to get the same kind of effect and relief by using the foam roller that you would get if you were to visit a trained physiotherapist. However, if you want to save some money or you don’t have access to an experienced clinician, you can use the foam roller to treat your muscle aches and pains at home. The tightness and soreness in your muscles may be causing you discomfort that you’re tired of dealing with, and using the foam roller can provide some relief. It’s understandable, then, why some people would want to use the foam roller rather than to go visit an actual massage therapist.
What Causes This Dysfunction?
In order to look at the question of how often should you foam roll, let’s talk about the reason behind muscle and soft tissue dysfunction in the first place.
Muscles form together in bundles of fibers and are wrapped up in an outer layer known as fascia. Typically, the fascia the fibers will work together, gliding side by side without sticking to one another or snagging on each other. If your muscles aren’t working the way they should, though, there may be some dysfunction there. If you overwork your muscles through intense training or you don’t move around very much for long periods of time, that can cause some sticking between the muscles and the fascia. Repetitive movements can create the same kind of problem, as can severe strain from lifting something heavy.
You can end up with knots in the muscles, creating points of tension in the body that need to be worked out. These knots are technically known as soft tissue adhesion, and there are points in your muscle groupings where the fascia and fibers no longer glide side by side but are instead glued together. If the problem isn’t treated, it can cause pain and inflammation. When this happens, some people will tend to avoid stretching or working those muscles very much, even though that’s one of the best ways to treat the issue.
Why Foam Rolling?
You see what the problem is, then. Your tissue isn’t working like it should, so massaging and smoothing it back out can help to get the muscles and fascia to glide together once more. The foam roller is very useful for that, as it works the muscles and connective tissue, stretching them and getting rid of the rough patches. Those places of stickiness and binding can become smooth once more so that they glide like they should.
How often should you foam roll your upper back and other areas that are sore or inflamed? That depends on how often you work out or what kind of injuries you get. Foam rolling can be used as both a preventative measure and a treatment method. As I mentioned, it’s not as effective a treatment as going to the physical therapist or massage clinician, but it can be helpful.
You can use the foam roller every time your muscles feel inflamed or sore, working them with the foam roller to smooth them out and get them feeling good again. You can also use the foam roller regularly to avoid muscle binding and sticking. If you know you are going to be working out later on, you can use the foam roller preemptively, preparing the muscles for that activity.
How often should you foam roll and stretch? You can stretch before every workout session, but should you foam roll just as often? The typical guidance for how often you foam roll is about two to three times a week. How often you need it may vary based on your activity levels and the kind of workout sessions you do, but two to three times a week is usually adequate.
If you feel like you need to use it more often than that, you may want to substitute it with stretching instead. Stretching has a lot more research backing it up, and there’s a lot more evidence that stretching helps to limber up muscles and prepare them for a workout as compared to using the foam roller.
Should You Foam Roll before Every Workout?
A lot of people will use foam rolling ahead of a strenuous workout session, but that might not be the best idea. There’s no clinical evidence that foam rolling makes a big difference, but you could overdo it and foam roll too much. You can actually damage your muscles by using this kind of at-home self-massage equipment. Because you’re probably not trained on how to massage your own tissue or to smooth out muscles, using the foam roller too often can be damaging and risky.
How often should you foam roll your legs before running? I wouldn’t suggest doing it every time you’re going to run, but if you want to use the foam roller two or three times a week before you go for a run, that should be fine. Anecdotal evidence points to this kind of frequency not putting anyone at significant risk of muscle injury.
Of course, how you use the foam roller is important. You don’t want to be too strenuous and rough with it. If you’re overly forceful with the foam roller or you have very lengthy foam rolling sessions, you can damage yourself. Keep it light and easy and see if it makes a difference for you. If you use the foam roller a couple times a week and you see some improvement, there should be no problem with continuing to do that for as long as you like. It’s not a good idea to increase the frequency beyond about three times a week, though.