Foam Rolling Exercises

Read More About Using Foam Rollers

Using Foam Rollers to Loosen Your "Guitar Strings"

Foam rollers are a common sight in physical therapy clinics and gyms and for good reason. They are easy to use tools that can help loosen muscles and relieve pain. 


When someone is injured, the muscles tighten to protect the body from further injury. Triggers points are the areas of the muscle that become overactive due to the injury, or due to chronic strain (like sitting on all day). By loosening the muscles, it allows for better range of motion and reduces the pain.


Prior to exercise, foam rollers can be used for warm-ups, while after exercise using them can help with cool downs. If a foam roller isn't available, rolling pins, tennis or lacrosse balls can all work in a pinch. The main thing to consider is personal comfort level.


Foam Rolling Exercises for Quadricep and Iliotibial Band


Almost all athletes - but especially runners and cyclists - can benefits from soft tissue mobilization (STM) to the quadricep, or quad. Athletes with knee and hip complaints or injuries can also benefit from quad exercises as the muscles cross both joints.


Foam rolling exercises include the muscle and fascia interface between quad and iliotibial band (ITB). The difference in tissue type between the ITB, or fascial band, and muscle is a common area for tissue restriction.


Video Demonstration: Foam Rolling Quad Exercise


Roll the thick fascial band that supports the hip and knee. Avoiding rolling over the greater trochanter (bony part on outside of the hip). Roll from top of knee to top of the thigh, avoiding any bony prominence in both pelvis and knee.

Changing the angle more towards your stomach (about 45 degrees) will get the interface between the quad and IT Band.




Video Demonstration: Quad Exercise With Massage Stick


If the foam roller is too intense or if someone has mobility challenges getting down and up off the floor a massage stick can be used instead. Pressure can be adjusted with your hands. As with the foam rolling exercise above, avoid rolling over the greater trochanter (bony part on the outside of the hip).




Video Demonstration: IT Band


Roll from the top of the knee to the top of the thigh, avoiding any bony prominence in both pelvis and knee. Changie the angle more towards the stomach (about 45 degrees) will get the interface between the quad and IT Band.



Foam Rolling Exercises for Calves


Calf STM is helpful to runners, dancers and any athlete who participates in sports that involve running and jumping. Foam rolling exercises can be helpful with achilles tendinitis and after an ankle sprain to help restore ankle motion.


For these exercises, the massage stick is easier to use in the calf region than the roller because the foam roller requires more load and stress on the shoulders and core.


Video Demonstration: Calves Foam Rolling


Work from top of calf to the lower calf, avoiding the Achilles tendon towards the heel. Crossing a leg over adds more weighted pressure.



Video Demonstration: Massage Stick for Calves


If using a massage stick, roll from top of calf to lower calf avoiding the Achilles tendon. Work through the entire calf, varying the angles to seek out sensitive or tight areas.




Foam Rolling Exercises for Upper Back


Spine mobility influences shoulder function. Swimmers, baseball/softball, volleyball or any upper body-dominant sport would benefit from this exercise. Additionally, it can be very helpful to anyone spending a lot of the day seated (work, student, etc) as the exercises help counteract the flexed seated posture.


In this exercisees, elbow position is optional and based on comfort, neither one is better than worse.


Video Demonstration: Foam Rolling Exercise for Upper Back, Elbows Out


With elbows out wide, roll from mid-back to top of shoulders. This is meant to promote reversal of most people’s daily posture seating at the computer or hunched over a smartphone to promote mobility of the spine and it ideally paired with postural strengthening exercises.




Video Demonsration: Foam Rolling Exercise for Upper Back, Elbow In

With elbows in, shoulder blades are out of the way and can get better contact with the roller to the upper thoracic spine. However, this is not a curl up – the eyes should look be towards the ceiling to keep the neck in line with the upper spine.




Video Demonstration: Foam Rolling Exercise for Spine

Lay head to tail on the foam roller, arms outstretched and relaxed completely on the floor with the palms facing the ceiling. This is meant to be a chest stretch. You should feel it on the chest wall and not in the front of the shoulders or arms. If you feel it there, you would move your arms down to a 45 degree angle. Spine is parallel to the roller with head and hips supported.


This reversal of posture stretch is often accompanied with thoracic extension mobility with foam roller.



Foam Rolling Exercises for Wrist Extensors


Foam rolling exercises for wrist extensors are commonly used for elbow pain, such as lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow) or medial epicondylitis (golfers elbow). A tennis ball or lacrosse ball on a table or against the wall is preferable.


For tennis elbow roll against the wall, keeping just enough pressure to hold the ball stable against the wall. Avoid any boney prominences. You can play with angles and pressure to seek out forearm tenderness also known as trigger points.

For golfers elbow keep enough pressure on the ball to make contact and keep stable running the length of the wrist flexors, avoiding any bony prominences. Play with the pressure angles and directions to seek out tender spots.


Video Demonstration: Foam Rolling Exercises for Forearm - Lacrosse Ball



Video Demonstration: Foam Rolling Exercises for Forearm - Tennis Ball



Foam Rolling Exercises for Wrist Flexors


Wrist extensor muscles are commonly tight or have trigger points. Keeping consistent pressure can help reduce the tension.


Video Demonstrations: Foam Rolling Exercise for Wrists