So you're into foam rolling but want to know more about what happens to your body when you go through your routine. Well look no further! Do we have some educational guidance for you. We appreciate the intellectually curious like yourself, so we won't waste your time and will dive right in...
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU FOAM ROLL?
YOU HAVE QUESTIONS, WE HAVE ANSWERS
WHAT'S GOING ON WITH THESE MUSCLE KNOTS THAT I GET?
Often when referring to musculoskeletal pain, people will describe a "knot" in one or more muscles. While this is an accurate description of the sensory experience for that type of pain, this is most often just the perception of that pain and not a physical "knot" in the muscles. Yep, this was news to us too.
Under healthy conditions, your muscles are in a permanent state of "semi-relaxation". The fibers are always locked in a mild to moderate state of contraction until they are called upon to perform a task like lifting or running. Electro-chemical signals (e.g. calcium ions) are sent from the muscle to brain and then back to muscle to make it contract. When these signals arrive from the brain, they flood the muscle fibers until they are no longer needed.
The problem arises when muscles reach a point of fatigue. When this happens, those signals that allow for contraction become trapped in muscle fibers, forcing a permanent localized "semi-contracted" state–a knot, if you will. These locked fibers reduce the flow of blood and its oxygen, restricting range of motion, reducing strength, and ultimately causing pain.
This fatigue can be caused by overuse and stress associated with: repetitive motion in a sport or job activity, sitting for prolonged periods of time, lifting heavy loads, or even sleeping in biomechanically unergonomic positions. And this fatigue can exacerbated by factors including long work hours, sleep deprivation, and even emotional stress.
WELL THAT SOUNDS AWFUL. HOW DOES FOAM ROLLING FIX ME?
One word: compression. When you apply your body weight to your foam roller, the muscles being compressed send signals through your nervous system to your brain to "down regulate" the system, essentially by sending electro-chemical signals back to your muscles to release their own chemicals (calcium ions) and relax. When your muscles relax, blood and oxygen flow increases and improves muscle function.
DOES FOAM ROLLING MAKE ME MORE FLEXIBLE?
This is one of the more controversial topics when it comes to the benefits of foam rolling, as much of the research demonstrating this effect has yielded mixed results. This is in part due to the inconsistent application of foam rollers, and the different body parts assessed in the studies. So we're going to go out on a limb and say, "yes...and no".
When foam rolling (or any form of self-myofascial release like using a massage stick or getting a sports massage) is immediately paired with appropriate mobility drills and strengthening exercises, the combination can yield flexibility benefits. As compression is applied via foam rolling, the targeted area relaxes and muscular tissue regains its appropriate range of motion and structural integrity. Rather than giving you superhuman flexibility, foam rolling essentially takes you back to your flexibility baseline.
WHAT ARE THESE "MUSCLE TOXINS" THAT FOAM ROLLING FLUSHES OUT?
Ah yes, another misnomer that we want to address. When foam rolling increases blood flow (see above), it increases the transfer rate of all fluids circulating through the muscles targeted by foam rolling. The "toxins" that are flushed through the muscles are actually just metabolic waste products produced from the muscles themselves (not anything foreign to your musculoskeletal system). Lactic acid (a muscle byproduct from strenuous exercise) and the aforementioned trapped calcium ions are two examples of these "toxins" that foam rolling helps to remove from your muscle fibers.
We're sure you may still have more questions about foam rolling, so we want to be here as a resource for you. Feel free to reach out (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we'll do our best to promptly get back to you with the answers you seek.
Because the more you know about foam rolling, the more effective your daily foam rolling routine will become. And in a beneficial cycle, your health and wellbeing can improve and have you seeking more knowledge to improve yourself. This is part of what living a Brazyn Life entails, and what we should all aspire to progress towards.