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The 5 most common foam rolling mistakes (and how to fix them)

Foam rollers, if used correctly, can provide a number of benefits including help ease the pain of sports injuries and overworked muscles. But make sure your patients aren't making these 5 most common foam rolling mistakes and how to fix them if they are.

According to the November 2016 National Health Statistics Report compiled by CDC, 8.6 million Americans suffer from some type of sports and recreation-related injury every year.

Men account for a majority of those injured (61.3 percent), as do individuals who are under the age of 24 (64.9 percent).

As far as which injuries are the most common, this depends largely on the activity the person was engaged in when the injury was sustained. For instance, the University of Washington’s Department of Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine reports that some of the injuries commonly experienced in football include overuse injuries, concussions, heat injuries, and traumatic injuries to the knees and shoulders. However, if the individual is hurt while engaged in gymnastics, an injury to the Achilles tendon, anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), wrist, or ankle is more likely.

Though some injuries do require medical attention, there are a few treatment remedies that can be conducted in the comfort of the patient’s own home. One of these involves using a foam roller which, if used correctly, can provide a number of benefits.

Foam rolling benefits

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) indicates that foam rollers can often help those who use them by:

  • Reducing adhesion risk, which also reduces muscle-related restrictions
  • Releasing muscle tightness and tension, ultimately improving range of motion
  • Restoring muscle length and tension so they work together more effectively
  • Enhancing the recovery process by reducing muscle soreness, increasing blood flow to the affected area, and elevating heat to the damaged tissue
  • Promoting a relaxation effect that has psychological benefits as well as physical

For these reasons, many sports enthusiasts find that regular use of a foam roller helps them achieve higher levels of health and performance. However, like with any other at-home treatment remedy, sometimes these devices aren’t used correctly, potentially putting these individuals at risk of further injury.

5 common foam rolling mistakes

Rocky Snyder, owner and CEO of Rocky’s Personal Fitness Training, Inc. in Santa Cruz, California, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS), an NSCA-certified personal trainer, an NASM-corrective exercise specialist, a TPI-certified golf fitness instructor, a licensed US Soccer Coach, and a USA Weightlifting Coach.

In these roles, he’s seen many foam roller mistakes. Here are his top five most common foam rolling mistkaes, as well as some ways to help your patients correct them:

1. Being too aggressive.

“Many people become overly aggressive when rolling soft tissue,” says Snyder. “Many times, the area which they target is tender or sore because it is inflamed. Rolling back and forth over an area of inflammation often makes the situation worse.”

To correct this mistake, help your sports patients realize that aggressively attacking the problem area isn’t necessarily the best approach. Sometimes less is more.

2. Going too fast. 

“Not taking a slow, controlled approach to rehydrating the affected tissue with foam rolling is a common mistake,” says Snyder, comparing this to receiving a quick massage as if the therapist is late for a date. “Not very effective in calming down tense areas,” he says.

If your patient is using the roller too fast, work with them to create a more slow and controlled process. This could be achieved by having them count to a certain number with each roll so they’re always aware of, and using, the proper speed.

3. Doing the same thing over and over again. 

“Most people continue to roll the same areas day after day without exploring other sites,” says Snyder, adding that “there are over 650 muscles in the body. Not all of them need the same attention, but there are sure to be a few that are yearning for just a little more.”

Combatting this mistake involves teaching patients to address their entire body when using a foam roller. Hit areas in the upper body, lower body, and core.

4. Having the notion of ‘no pain, no gain.’ 

“The point of foam rolling is to rehydrate tissue,” says Snyder, “not to find the most painful place. When the brain experiences pain, it commands the muscles to contract and protect. This is counterproductive and will not allow increased circulation.”

Educating your patients that pain is not the desired result is critical in helping them avoid this common foam rolling mistake. Teach them that pain isn’t the ultimate goal.

5. Not having a plan.

“Most people just blindly roll the same areas without really having a plan,” says Snyder. “A better approach may be to gain an understanding of which muscles are being pulled on more than others. Rolling out those areas can allow the body to return to a more balanced, aligned posture.”

Snyder has developed a chart for his clients, giving them a visual aid so they know which exercises to do as well as where to roll. You could do this for your patients as well, helping them to create a plan as to which ones could benefit them most.

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