Foam Rolling For Back Pain

Foam Rolling For Back Pain

So you’ve pulled a muscle in your back. Or trained too hard and have sore hips. Or maybe you just always feel like you need a massage in your lower back/shoulder/calf but of course you don’t have volunteers racing each other to massage you.

Introducing the foam roller. The latest technique to release sore muscles which essentially works on releasing the fascia around your muscle – myofascial release.

“Myofascial release is used to self-release the ‘knots’ in your muscles. Fascia is a form of connective tissue that wraps and bundles muscle (myo) together, providing support and protection. The fascia can become restricted due to overuse, injury and inactivity,” says Kyle Petry from Back to Basics Health and Exercise in Sydney’s Parramatta, who has added foam rolling classes to the timetable at his fitness studio.

“Foam rolling works by applying constant pressure on the myofascia, which causes longitudinal changes in the collagen fibers and fluid is forced out of the fascia. The fascia responds quite rapidly by retaining its original state with fluid flooding the tissue at an even higher rate than before. This causes the fibers to become more lubricated and elastic.”

It can improve posture, release tight muscles, decrease pain soreness, release tension and get you back on the path to having a full range of motion. .

“The more you do it, the quicker you’ll see results,” says Petry, “it’s particularly good for people with muscular skeletal injuries and can be done on a daily basis.”

Top 5 foam roller exercises

By Kyle Petry

1. Iliotibial band (ITB) foam roller release

Your iliotibial band (ITB) is actually a thickening in the lateral part your fascia lata. The ITB originates from the ilium (hip bone), gluteus maximus and tensor fasciae latae muscles and crosses the knee joint inserting onto the outside aspect of the tibia (skin) bone.

The primary role of the ITB is to provide support to the knee by increasing stabilisation during any sport that demands repetitive movement of the knee, such as walking, running, cycling, rowing etc. The repetitive nature of these sports place an enormous load on the hip, knee and ankle joints which can result in an increased amount of muscular tension leading to stiff muscles.


Performing the ITB Release

Right hip should be in contact with the roller
Left foot placed on the ground to assist with movement
Use your arms to support your bodyweight
Slowly move along the roller towards the side of your knee
Spend a minimum of 90 seconds on each side

As you progress along the roller you may roll over some spots that are particularly painful. You should pause on these tender spots until the intensity of the pain significantly lessens. Continue along the length of your ITB and repeat as necessary.

2. Hamstrings foam roller release

Your hamstrings are comprised of three main muscles; biceps femoris, semimembranosus and semitendinosus. These muscles combined are primarily responsible for flexion of the knee joint (bending) as well as assisting in extension of the thigh (moving the upper leg backwards). The hamstrings also work as one unit to rotate the knees and play a major role in the position of our pelvis.

Tight hamstrings can cause the natural curve in your lower back to lessen resulting in poor postural and restricting functional movements such as squats and deadlifts. Therefore it is imperative that you maintain a good range of motion in your hamstring muscles which can be achieved by regularly participating in foam rolling and flexibility training.




Performing the hamstrings release

Position your right hamstring on the roller
Bend your left knee placing your foot on the ground
Place your hands behind you to assist with pushing along the roller
Slowly work your way towards your pelvis
Spend a minimum of 90 seconds on each side

3. Thoracic (Upper Back) Foam Roller Release

Your thoracic spine is the segment that spans from T1 through to T12. The posterior (back) muscles are often placed under excessive stretch due to postural imbalances that can occur over time from prolonged sitting, muscular imbalances, osteoporosis and spinal degeneration. Left untreated, muscular imbalances can often cause acute intermitted and even chronic pain.




Performing the Thoracic Foam Roller Release

Place the roller across your upper back as demonstrated
Interlock your fingers and place hands under head for support
Have your knees bent with feet flat on the floor
Slowly and gently arch your upper back over the roller and hold for 3 seconds
Gentle release and repeat 10 repetitions moving to a slightly different spot


4. Calf Foam Roller Release

Your gastrocnemius (calf) muscle is made up of mostly fast twitch (type II) muscle fibres. Muscles that are predominantly fast twitched orientated are designed for explosive and rapid movements such as sprinting. Your soleus (muscle below calf) primarily consists of slow twitch (type I) muscle fibres, which are highly fatigue resistant and are designed to withstand long endurance activities such as walking, jogging or long distance running. The action of walking or running requires both these muscles to be active, especially the soleus as it works to help stabilise the ankle joint.

As your calf and soleus muscles are used repetitively on a daily basis, our clinicians commonly encounter individuals with calf specific muscular restrictions. On a functional level, if you have limited dorsi flexion (toes up), this will impact your ability to perform a functional squat, single leg squat, step down and landing from a jump. Performing muscle massage on the foam roller has shown to help release the muscular tension in restricted calves.




Performing the calf foam roller release

Place the roller across the upper part of the calf muscle
Bend your left knee placing your foot on the ground
Place your hands behind you to assist with pushing along the roller
Slowly work your way towards your pelvis
Spend a minimum of 90 seconds on each side


5. Latissimus Dorsi (Lats) Foam Roller Release

The latissimus dorsi run down either side of your torso and are responsible for lowering your arm down from your side, raising your arm up forward and medially rotating the shoulder (rounding). The muscle originates from your thoracolumbar fascia (lower back) and inserts into the intertubercular groove (arm pit). This muscle can commonly tighten causing the inability to raise either arm right above the shoulders and is a major player in rounding of the shoulders contributing to poor posture.

Releasing your latissimus dorsi on the foam roller can be particular sensitive and painful. We recommend you start with a small amount of pressure and gradually increase the amount of body weight you apply onto the roller.




Performing the latissimus dorsi foam roller release

Lay with your arm extended and the roller across your armpit
Ensure you remain side on and avoid rolling forward
Use one leg to slowly push yourself along until you reach your lower ribs
Gradually work your way back towards armpit
Spend a minimum of 90 seconds on each side