Tuesday 14 June 2016

Foam Roller Syndrome

Foam roller syndrome. Don't Google it, I made the term up. It's basically the name I give to chronic, self-(mis)treated instability. Here's why...

Foam rollers, lacrosse balls, tennis balls, Tiger Tails - they're all great tools. Without a doubt, self-massage and myofascial release are incredibly useful for working out tension and restrictions in the body. When you have pain and soreness from either injury or exercise, the aid to get through the recovery process is invaluable.

However (there is always a "however"), like most things that pop up in the health and fitness industry, self-myofascial release is being treated as another magic bullet. Foam roll your back before every workout. Dig the lacrosse ball into your shoulder blade to improve your range. Massage your calves out every night to prevent injury. Familiar, right?

Here's the question, though. Is chronic use of these tools necessary? Should the typical individual, whether they're an athlete, gym rat, or average Joe, feel the need to work through their erectors routinely in order to remain comfortable?

My answer is: probably not. To explain, let me just point out that pain and tension are not a dysfunction. They are symptoms. They are indicative OF a dysfunction. A muscle being tight and sore is, itself, not the problem. It is tight and sore because of its need to compensate for the postural or mechanical faults that are occurring elsewhere in the body.

Let's use the most common example of back pain. Again and again, I see people on the foam roller for 15 minutes every day to work through the tension in their erectors. The excuse is that they're stressed, or were on their feet all day, or that the way they workout requires it. Sure, maybe these factors are exacerbating the condition, but why not ask why the condition is there in the first place? Is there instability that causes stress-triggered spasm? Does the improper weight-bearing position of your hips make you unable to stand for long periods? Are your muscles firing in an improper pattern while you lift weights?

Foam rolling dependence highlights a neglect on the mechanical errors that cause us these types of dysfunctions. Like biweekly trips to the chiropractor or daily painkiller medications, relying on self-massage is just another way of covering up the symptoms while not actually coming to a long-term solution. Rolling still has its place, especially when dealing with acute injury or exertional stress, but myofascial release belongs side-by-side with a program to retrain and educate the body's function. While strengthening the core, then of course, you should roll the back to fasciliate the adjustment toward proper movement patterns, and as the dysfunction is trained away, then the need for the foam roller should as well. If you've noticed yourself needing to use it chronically, then it's probably time to reevaluate what you're doing.

You can bail the boat all day, but you're still sinking until you patch the hole.

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