I got my first foam roller in the US over 16 years ago and it sat in the corner of the room for about a year until I decided I had better start using it. This was definitely before the foam roller revolution here in the UK.
I had been shown how to use the foam roller to assist postural correction, alleviate back strain and, to open up the chest. I had also been shown how to roll my gluteal and quadricep muscles and, just for fun, my triceps and latissimus dorsi (ouch!). The instructions given to me at the time where that foam rolling, when done slowly and diligently, helps to increase circulation, decrease tissue toxins and, warms up the muscles and fascia, all of which would help restore normal function, balance and co-ordination. Craig Leibenson DC, promotes using a foam roller for postural correction as part of traditional rehabilitation protocols.
My favourite self-care foam roller technique is to lie on it along my spine with my head and sacrum supported on the foam roller, knees bent and, to allow my arms to make snow angels by slowly abducting them bilaterally to where I feel resistance then, I wait for a sensation of my body softening and lengthen and, I keep going until I have got my arms right above my head. This whole process can sometimes take 20 minutes, but the difference I feel in my shoulders and my neck is worth every minute.
Over the years, I have instructed hundreds of therapists and clients how to use Self Myofascial Release Therapy (SMFR) using a foam roller and a therapy ball. In recent years, I have also added a peanut roller too as it gets into little specific points that neither the therapy ball or the foam roller can manage.
I use the therapy balls first with clients to see what response they have and, even use these balls on the treatment table while I treating them, acting like an extra hand or fulcrum. The foam roller is a progression. I also don’t think the firmness of the foam roller matters too much as it’s how you use it that matters. For hands-on Myofascial Release, I use the phrase
It’s not how much pressure you use,
it’s how much resistance you feel
This is also true for SMFR. It’s not the firmness or hardness of the therapy tool and how hard you push into it, it’s the resistance in your own body not managing to accommodate and soften over the therapy tool that matters. You need to concentrate and work at allowing your body to respond and become soft, like allowing your body to melt over the tool.
Some clients love foam rollers, others hate them. Unfortunately, it’s usually the client that hates them who would actually benefit the most. Then, there is always the client who is far too eager and actually put dents in their foam roller because they looked up the Internet on how to roll their Iliotibial band. I’m not sure what or who came out worse the foam roller or the Iliotibial band?
In my opinion, if you can get good results with a therapy ball, taking your time with the work and softening your body, that’s the most important tool. You can take a therapy ball in a bag anywhere, not so easy with a foam roller.
One of the most effective SMFR techniques using a therapy ball is for your hip flexors. Just lying over the ball, one side at a time and concentrating on softening your body. Then, slowly adding in a very subtle fascial stretch and, you can get amazing results that everyone can feel. It’s great for people who have sedentary jobs, back stiffness and pelvic discomfort.
I’ve taught SMFR as part of a treatment session as well as a separate session just focusing on teaching specific techniques for the client to use, in-between my treatments. This means that my MFR treatments are enhanced and the work is continuous. The client is empowered as they can then help themselves to get better and become pain free.
Teaching SMFR to clients just seems like a natural progression from what we do on the treatment couch or mat. We can help our clients more and expand our own skills in doing so. Not forgetting of course that all the self-care techniques we provide for clients, we can also do ourselves. Just seems like a win, win to me.