Spinal health and thoracic mobility can be improved with a regular musculoskeletal routine, just some of the benefits of foam rolling for patients
Do you recommend the benefits of foam rolling to your patients? An integral component, it is often overlooked for a healthy musculoskeletal routine. These lightweight cylinders facilitate self-massage and myofascial release, which in turn boosts circulation and helps maintain healthy, flexible tissue. Succinctly put, healthy tissue means less chance of developing dysfunction.
Enhancing chiropractic treatment
Foam rolling is a practical, effective way to support and enhance chiropractic treatment. Not only does it serve as a great preworkout warm-up, it is an equally beneficial postworkout recovery aid.
Static stretching can blunt muscles’ ability to generate force due to the loss of elastic properties from prolonged lengthening. Foam rolling, however, brings a much-needed surge of oxygen to targeted areas, which helps circulate vital nutrients and remove waste products. One study found that participants who foam rolled were “less sore” after a “devastating” workout that included several sets of squats. Over time, the study projected that the same feeling of reduced fatigue would allow participants to extend their workout time and volume, leading to long-lasting performance enhancements.
A foam roller can help extend the benefits of chiropractic treatment and soft tissue therapy. Athletes consistently turn to soft tissue therapy like massage, Active Release Technique (ART) or Graston to keep their muscles supple, flexible and healthy. Regular foam rolling helps athletes and non-athletes alike achieve the benefits of massage without relying solely on a massage therapist or certified ART practitioner. A foam roller will never replace a set of skilled hands, but it is an easy, simple way to supplement their work.
Benefits of foam rolling: targeting dysfunctional tissue
If you do not perform soft tissue work on your patients before an adjustment, then simply adding foam rolling to the patients’ pre-adjustment routine and homework will result in faster recovery and reduction in pain and dysfunction. Misalignments, or fixated joints, are results of altered biomechanics due to taut, dysfunctional soft tissue.
When soft tissue develops adhesions, it limits joints’ normal range of motion, becoming fixated or misaligned. All joints have soft tissue attaching to them, and if that soft tissue is injured via trauma, repetitive stress or sustained poor posture, then the joint will be affected.
Foam rollers work over large areas and target most major muscle groups. Most commonly, you will see people rolling out their legs after a tough workout, reducing tension and easing those knots in their quads, calves and hamstrings. Likewise, foam rollers are equally effective for often-neglected areas like the inner abductors, glutes and piriformis. For those who spend much of the day sitting down, foam rolling packs a double punch; it will bring blood flow back to the legs, as well as target areas that tighten up from too much time in a chair, like the iliotibial (IT) band, hip flexors and hip abductors.
Rolling the back
The benefits of foam rolling are not just for lower extremities; it is even more important for the back. The back moves with the help of several large groups of muscles. Keeping the back tissues healthy prevents those muscles from putting undue pressure on the nerves and spine. Use a foam roller to ease tension in the thoracic spine area by placing it perpendicular to your back, and gently rock side to side as you roll slowly up and down the back. Your foam roller will also smooth out your lats, and can even help you get into your rhomboids — those tricky muscles that connect the thoracic spine to the shoulder blades.
As mentioned earlier, it is hard to treat just the soft tissue without treating the joints. In addition to working on the muscles, some thoracic mobility exercises such as supine extension using the foam roller as a fulcrum can help maintain normal joint motion in the upper thoracic spine. Thoracic mobility is an extremely important part of spinal health, which foam rolling can help maintain. Proper mobility prevents excessive movement of the neck and lower back and can help stabilize, leading to decreased risk of injuries in the cervical and lumbar regions.
For desk and computer workers
Overall spine posture is critical in today’s world, where people sit too much in front of desks and computers. A very common condition is upper cross syndrome, with forward head posture and hyperkyphotic thoracic spine. Laying your spine vertically on top of a foam roller and letting your arms hang on the floor while making ground angels is a great way to open the chest up and assist in reversing the hyperkyphotic thoracic spine.
Not only are foam rollers portable, widely available and inexpensive, they also take only a few minutes each day to make a difference. This makes foam rolling a feasible option for patients who log regular travel time or juggle busy schedules and want a lot of bang for their buck. Almost every gym and studio has a foam roller tucked in the corner these days, and your clinic should have at least one as well. Toss the roller on the floor and use body weight for pressure while moving steadily up and down along the chosen muscle group. It is recommended to stop at any tender or tight spots and sink down for 30-60 seconds. To speed up the oxygenation, rock gently over the spot from side to side.
Education and tolerance are very important, especially when one region is extremely tender. In the case of a sprain, strain or severe delayed onset muscle soreness, rolling areas surrounding the injury provides increased oxygen and fresh blood to the damaged area. If the injury is acute, it is advised to wait until swelling or inflammation has reduced before applying pressure.
Types of foam rollers
When purchasing a foam roller, it is important to consider the options. Patients who are sensitive to soft tissue work need a softer, low-density roller and should avoid foam rollers with studs and bumpy ridges.
Patients who seek out “more pressure” during soft tissue work should look into a high-density roller. These types of foam rollers will not have much give and are great for targeting the deeper tissues that a softer foam roller cannot target.
Foam rolling can be uncomfortable at times, but should not cause pain, as this can result in trauma to the tissue. “No pain, no gain” is not the mindset when it comes to foam rolling; it should always be within a comfortable tolerance in order to be therapeutic.
Foam rollers vary in size from 12 to 36 inches. Large foam rollers are great for at-home use, but a smaller, 12-inch option is more convenient for travel, work or at the gym.
A foam roller is a simple tool, but it may be difficult for patients to determine which muscle groups need the most attention or how best to support their chiropractic care. The chiropractor’s role is to prescribe the proper foam rolling protocols to make the life of both the patient and doctor much smoother.
Adam Jacobs, DC, found chiropractic after a wakeboarding accident badly injured his lower back. When nothing else could help his pain, chiropractic was there. He attended UC Santa Cruz, where he received his undergraduate degree in Biology, and attended Palmer West College of Chiropractic in San Jose, Calif., specializing in sports chiropractic. He founded SF Custom Chiropractic and can be reached at sfcustomchiro.com.