August 10th, 2012

Health N' Sports: The Foam Roller

Staff Report

Health N' Sports: The Foam Roller
photo from

Louisville Orthopaedic Clinic explains self-massage

As a part of the Louisville Orthopaedic Clinic, the Sports Rehab Team physical therapists are knowledgeable and trained in the latest advancements and techniques available in sports rehabilitation. 

On a weekly basis, the Health N’ Sports Update will give information on prevention, recovery, and include special offers, as well as general health tips that would be beneficial to all. If there is a specific topic you’d like to know or hear more about, email future suggestions to 

Many sports injuries are actually muscle knots or “trigger points” that start as very minor micro-tears. A repetitive tear-and -repair cycle causes a knot or trigger point to develop that may result in pain and stiffness in the area over time. In a runner, common trouble spots include the front and backs of the thighs (hip flexors, quadriceps in front and hamstrings on the back, the deep hip region, and the outside of the thigh known as the IT Band.

While stretching is beneficial, once the knot has developed, only direct pressure such as an active release technique (ART) can break up and relieve these knots. Physical Therapists or other licensed manual therapists have the skills and knowledge of anatomy to treat these common injuries through various massage techniques, ASTYM, and other modalities.  Self-massage techniques can also be very effective (not to mention more economical and convenient).

A foam roller has become a very popular tool to provide active release of sore and tight muscles, especially in the lower extremities. It is a firm foam log that you use your own body weight to apply direct pressure over the knot to stimulate blood flow and break of scar tissue.   The roller can be used in this way to apply small more direct pressure to sore areas, or longer more sweeping strokes to long muscle groups like the calves, adductors, quadriceps, and hamstrings.  For deeper trigger points, such as in the piriformis (the muscle deep within the hip and buttock region), a small ball may be more effective for rolling.

These techniques may be performed before or after every workout on the injured area, or at least 2-3 times a week for injury prevention. While many directions for foam rolling techniques may be found online depending on the area or injury, consultation with a physical therapist is recommended to prescribe you a specific protocol and help you make the most of these self-treatments. Here are some general guidelines followed by some common areas the foam roller can be very effective.


1. Roll back and forth across the painful or stiff area for 60 seconds, spending extra time directly over the knot or trigger point itself. A total of 5 to 10 minutes for soft tissue activation and warm-up is generally recommended 

2. Roll the injured area 2 to 3 times a day. For maintenance two to three times a week is recommended.

3. Avoid rolling over bony areas

4. Stretch the area following foam rolling

Pose 1: IT Band Roll 

Lie sideways with the foam roller under the side of your thigh. Roll between your knee and your hip bone. Spend extra time on the more tender areas you encounter. Use your top leg and foot against the ground to decrease the force if you cannot tolerate the pressure initially. After a few days of rolling, your IT Band will loosen up and you should be able to tolerate full pressure (feet together off the ground).  

Pose 2: Hamstring/Quad Roll 



Start with both of your thighs on the roller at the same time. Roll back and forth from your knees to hips. To increase the pressure, lift one thigh off the roller. This doubles the force.

Pose 3: Middle Back



Lie on your back on the foam roller. Cross your arms in front of your chest and exhale deeply as you roll the middle of your back against the foam roller. 

Photos from

Louisville Orthopaedic Clinic & Sports Rehab Center

Main Office: 502-897-1794

Physical Therapy: 502-897-1790 


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