What is foam rolling - also known as self-myofascial release (SMR)?

Foam rolling, aka, self-myofascial release (SMR) is a basic stretching technique. The goal of SMR is to release tension and discomfort in a tightened muscle. A foam roll is used to apply gentle pressure to areas of soreness or tightness (tension) in a muscle. It is termed "self" myofascial due to the muscles' sense of tension becoming inhibited with the gentle application of pressure, causing the muscle to relax, and reduce discomfort.
Self-myofascial release (SMR) involves using a foam roll to reduce the tension in muscles. When using a foam roller, it is important to follow these guidelines: Place the roller perpendicular to the muscle being rolled, roll slowly until you find a tender spot and hold the roller in place for 20-30 seconds.  There are a few contraindications to foam rolling, for example never roll over a joint (hip, knee, etc.) and avoid rolling more sensitive areas of the body (neck, abdominals, low back, etc.).  Be sure to speak with your doctor before foam rolling if you are on any medications, have any other symptoms or to rule out any injuries and to receive appropriate treatment.
Scott Pullen
Scott Pullen on behalf of dotFIT
It is a form of self-administered (inflicted?) flexibility. A foam roller is used to slowly roll over tight and/or aggravated tissue, mush like a masseuse pushing through tight muscles. While slowly rolling, you are feeling for areas that register more sensitivity or pain. These areas are typically indicative of "trouble spots". Maintain pressure on the trouble spot for 20-40 seconds. This will cause a series of receptors to engage and ultimately relax, causing the trouble spot to dissipate or relax. SMR can be done pre or post workout. It works very well in helping to make muscles more pliable prior to static stretching and by itself can serve as an effective warm up. Done post workout, it can help to relax the muscles that were worked. My personal experiences with this technique are only positive. It can contribute too much easier, pain free movement and reduce pain associated with chronically tight muscles as those experienced from prolonged sitting or pattern overload/use. There is so much more that could be discussed, with many interesting theories on how and why SMR does what it does...however, it would exceed the what could be listed here. Suffice it to say that it is a valuable flexibility tool and a great way to keep moving well with less pain. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.