If any of your patients have ever undergone physical therapy following an injury, particularly to the lower extremities, they are likely familiar with foam rollers.
They are among the most versatile and easy to use tools to help with rebuilding muscle strength and tone, as well as improving balance and coordination.
While foam rollers are most often associated with physical rehab, they are also a great way to keep your patients in top condition even if they have not suffered an injury. Your patients may even find that regular use of a foam roller will allow their bodies to hold chiropractic adjustments in the proper position for longer periods of time, making foam rollers a valuable addition to your practice.
What are foam rollers?
Foam rollers are either cylinders or half cylinders of closed-cell foam. They come in a variety of lengths and firmness, depending upon their intended use.1 There are even small, hand-held rollers that can be used on the neck, shoulders, and arms.1-3
The basic premise behind foam rollers is that they use the patient’s own weight to perform myofascial self-release.2 As the patient rolls the affected muscle or joint along the roller, the pressure against the firm foam surface will essentially provide the same amount of pressure as would a myofascial release you might perform with your hands. Additionally, foam rollers can help relieve various muscle trigger points that may be stiff and sore.1
The half-cylinder rollers can also be used to provide core stability for certain exercises such as sit-ups, as well as help with improving balance and proprioception.1 They are also excellent for older patients or those who may have mobility issues, as they will not roll around, so are more stable. Some patients also find that including foam rollers into their yoga practice will help them both hold certain poses for longer periods of time and help them stretch further to get into a better position.1-2
Do foam rollers actually work?
There is a growing body of research examining the effectiveness of foam rollers at relieving various muscle and joint issues. A 2015 article in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy performed a meta-analysis to search for commonalities among results from other journal articles as to whether or not foam rollers are effective for self myofascial release.3
By pooling together results from 14 other journal articles, the researchers concluded: “Foam rolling and roller massage may be effective interventions for enhancing joint ROM [range of motion] and pre and post exercise muscle performance.”3
Picking the perfect roller
The great thing about incorporating foam rollers into your practice is that showing patients how to use them and getting them started is very easy.4 Have a variety of rollers in different sizes and firmness, as well as some half-rollers and hand-held ones.
Your patients can then “test-drive” them until they find the one that best meets their needs. If they decide to then purchase a roller for home use, they will know which one to get.
You can then show them several exercises so that they can get the maximum benefit, along with proper form so as not to inadvertently cause more damage to joints and muscles. Although patients may initially grimace, it will eventually take only five to six rolls before they get the “aha moment” of the self myofascial release relieving their sore and stiff joints.4
You can certainly incorporate new moves to try with the foam roller for each visit, but also stress the importance of daily rolling at home, both before and after exercise.
- Foam roller. Runner’s World Accessed 6/14/2016.
- How to use a foam roller. Runner’s World Accessed 6/14/2016.
- Cheatham SW, Kolber MJ, Cain M, Lee M. The effects of self-myofascial release using a foam roll or roller massager on joint range of motion, muscle recovery, and performance: A systematic review. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. 2015;10(6):827-838.
- Stein A. Try this simple exercise equipment and you’ll be on a roll. Chicago Tribune Accessed 6/14/2016.