Knotty by nature? Roll your way to fewer running injuries

Photo credit: FitSugar

Photo credit: FitSugar

Whether you’re a casual jogger or competitive racer, you’ve likely dealt with aches and pains. Inevitable, yes. But debilitating? Not if you take an active role in preventing injury and promoting recovery with every runner’s best friend: the foam roller.

Athletes use rollers to perform self-myofascial release (SMR), which helps to relax soft tissues, promote circulation and ultimately stretch out tight muscles and connective tendons that are most prone to injury.

Photo credit: Runner's World

Photo credit: Runner’s World

Why’s this important? Well, an out-of-whack body (due to injury, poor posture, over-training, little-to-no stretching, etc.) has poor range of motion which, over time, can morph into a larger, chronic issue.

SMR allows athletes to address underlying problems before they get out of hand (i.e. beyond repair).

Think of your roller as the next best thing to a personal physical therapist kneading out knots, plus it’s a lot cheaper and can be done in the privacy of your home.

Photo credit: Trigger Point Performance

Photo credit: Trigger Point Performance

Rollers range from simple foam ($12 here on Amazon.com) to sophisticated grids for a more targeted massage ($40 here from Trigger Point Performance Therapy).

Type aside, the key to success lies in regular use – not only to help work out kinks and stretch, but also for improved core strength, balance and spinal mobility.

Focus on trouble spots – for runners, those are calves, shins, hamstrings, quadriceps, IT (iliotibial) band, piriformis and back muscles – and keep the following tips in mind (and if you’re looking for more guidance, I’ll share specific exercises in a follow-up post):

  • Prepare yourself – expect some discomfort, and when you hit a tender spot, hold for 60-90 seconds
  • Be patient – it’s taken days, months or maybe even years for your muscles to tighten up; don’t expect them to loosen immediately
  • Go slow – rocking back and forth quickly may feel good, but settle in to really hit deep tissues
  • Commit the time – you can safely perform myofascial release every day; do it as often as possible to re-train muscle memory
  • Stay flexible – add stretching to your routine to gain even more mobility in problem areas
  • Use common sense  – any pain that does not improve should be evaluated by a physical therapist or physician
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