Foam rollers are commonly recommended by Physios for their clients to utilise as part of a home rehab program.  They are often a little bit uncomfortable to use at the time, but you do feel better for it after!  As we are about to enter the summer Christmas / New Year holiday season, when many people embark on new exercise regimes, I thought it would be a timely reminder to keep up foam rolling those legs!

A recent article in the Sports Injury Bulletin (a great reference for any physios) discussed some of the current research around the effects of foam rolling on joint range of motion (ROM). In comparison to static stretching, which does increase hip and knee ROM but in the short term leads to an impairment in performance, foam rolling increases ROM at the hip and knee between 9% and 13% with no subsequent reduction in voluntary force or activation. 

The question remains, what exactly is foam rolling doing in order to achieve an increase in ROM?  It is thought that as well as neuronal mechanisms, such as increased stretch tolerance, the increases in ROM may be due to morphological changes associated with myofascial release.  Firstly, muscle is encased by fascia, composed of multiple fibrous layers. It has been suggested that myofascial release with a roller loosens cross-links between the fascia layers, allowing greater elongation of underlying muscle. Secondly, it is thought that compression of the muscle and surrounding fascia whilst rolling stimulates contractile cell activity, increasing tissue hydration and therefore reducing fascial tissue stiffness. Further research as to the exact mechanisms by which foam rolling improves myofascial tension is being undertaken, but for now I'd still encourage you to roll the front, side and back of the legs as a way to reduce DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and improve hip and knee ROM. This video is of me demonstrating how to use the roller on your legs - you can place the top foot on the ground in front of the bottom leg to help balance and reduce load through the leg onto the roller.

Foam rollers are also a great way to work on spinal mobility, by rolling the upper back across the roller as well as extending the spine over the arc of the roller for extension.  Lying lengthwise on the roller with the arms out to the side (crucifix stretch) or with elbows bent (cactus stretch) is also a lovely way to stretch out the chest.  For more guidance on these stretches look back at photos and videos of me on the roller on my Instagram page. 

So if you're looking for a last minute Christmas present for your loved one (or yourself) then a foam roller makes a wonderful gift that keeps on giving! For those of you that already have one at home, pull it out of the cupboard/under the stairs and leave it somewhere obvious where you will utilise it each day - I promise you the more you roll your legs the easier/less painful it becomes!