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Blake Marlia shows how to target the piriformis (butt) muscle simply sit on a foam roller and roll back and forth until you find the tight or tender spot. Hold it there until the tension releases. (Lisa Britton photo)
Have a sore muscle? Try “releasing” it by using a foam roller.
Here’s how it feels:
And then: ahhhhhh.
Foam rollers are cylinders made of dense foam. To use one, position it so you can roll it along the muscle using your body weight. When you find a tender spot, hold it there for a minute or so, until the tightness relaxes.
“It’s breaking up restrictions,” said physical therapist Anne Nemec of Integrative Physical Therapy in Baker City.
Sore muscles are basically scar tissue, which is not very pliable.
Foam rolling, says Blake Marlia of Baker Valley Physical Therapy, “helps your body break down and reconstruct. It goes back to more elastic tissue.”
He said they’ve used foam rollers at BVPT for about eight years.
Not all foam roller moves involve the “ouch” factor. Some simply help your body stretch.
Marlia’s favorite stretch with the foam roller is a thoracic rotation. (A shoulder stretch, in other words.)
To do this, get on your hands and knees with a foam roller parallel to your left hand. Place your right hand on the roller, and roll your arm underneath your body, turning your torso to the left. You should feel a nice shoulder stretch. Repeat on the other side.
Nemec’s favorite move only requires a foam noodle, available at The Dollar Tree. To make it firmer, poke a wooden dowel through the hollow middle.
Place it on the floor, then lie on top of it with the noodle along your spine and supporting your head.
This helps your shoulders relax toward the floor, counteracting the hunch that comes from sitting at a computer all day, or stooping to help children.
Other common muscles that benefit from rolling are the hamstrings, quadriceps, calves and piriformis (butt muscles) and the IT band, which runs on the outside of your leg from the hip to knee.
“Find your places that are really tight,” Nemec said.
And you don’t necessarily need a foam roller.
Kim Zinn, DPT at St. Alphonsus Rehabilitation Services in Baker City, says a tennis ball can work just as well.
She recommends using a ball on the neck/upper trapezius to help muscle tension, jaw pain, tension headaches or a limited range of motion for the neck.
Simply place a tennis ball between your neck and the wall. Roll it up and down or side to side until you find a trigger point — then hold steady pressure there for 90 seconds to two minutes.
“A true trigger point release will actually hurt, and may even refer pain temporarily to the head and jaw, but it’s the kind of pain that you can tell you are in the right spot and that you’ve found ‘the problem area,’ ” she said.
That pain should stop when pressure is released, but Zinn said some tenderness may remain in that area.
She said the same technique can be applied to the midback and lower back muscles on each side of the spine.
“Similar to before/after a deep tissue massage, the person should drink plenty of water to maximize the benefit of the trigger point releases,” she said.
Nemec uses a variety of balls in her treatments too, and said a particularly effective move — especially for plantar fasciitis — is to roll a ball underneath your foot from toe to heel (you’ll want to sit down for this move).
You can also roll a ball over muscles, working out sore spots, or even sit or lie on a ball (such as for hamstrings or glutes).