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Foam Rollers for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

By Jessica Kupetz

It’s not uncommon to experience some mild or moderate soreness when starting out a new exercise program, but swelling, pain and discomfort can reveal delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS. Left untreated, DOMS can leave athletes and avid exercisers with significantly decreased mobility and soft tissue irritation. This overuse injury still requires a concrete solution, but researchers have found that along with rest and patience, foam rolling can help inhibit muscles to get back to their normal resting length.

What is a Foam Roller?

A foam roller is a cylindrical piece of equipment used as a self-myofascial release, or SMR, tool to increase blood flow and circulation to the tissues. This cheap “massage” tool can be found at your local sports department store for a fraction of the price of a sports massage. If you are new to foam rolls and inhibition techniques, stick to a softer foam roller, which presents less penetration into your sore muscle tissue.

Using a Foam Roller

When muscles become sore and overused, “knots” or “trigger” points develop within muscle fibers, decreasing the elasticity of the soft tissue. By applying SMR techniques such as the foam roller, you can essentially break up these spasms to feel relief in a shortened muscle, calming tight fascia. DOMS can be uncomfortable two days after intense training and last up to two weeks after. While there is no one treatment solution to DOMS, foam rolling in combination with active stretching techniques can help prevent muscle adhesions that can increase over time.

Target Areas

Common areas to target with the foam roller are larger, overused muscle groups in the upper and lower extremities. Foam rolling can be done daily for durations of 30 to 90 seconds on the more tender spots. For sore, tight legs, use the foam roller on your calves, iliotibial band, hamstrings and piriformis. For your upper extremities, target your thoracic spine, latissimus dorsi and erector spinae for continued relief.

Precautions and Contraindications

Like any other exercise program, consult a medical professional before getting started, particularly those with any form of organ failure. Those suffering from osteoporosis, blood clots, acute rheumatoid arthritis, bursitis, advanced diabetes or hematomas are among the long list of individuals who should avoid foam rolling for relief of DOMS. If you have access to a personal trainer or belong to a gym with access to a knowledgeable fitness center staff member, ask for a demonstration of proper technique and a list of all contraindications.

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