Foam Rolling

Jul24th 2018

Sara Blodgett – Physical Therapist Assistant

South Fort Collins Location

Blog – Foam Rolling


Foam rolling is one of the best ways to perform soft tissue mobilization or myofascial release in between therapy sessions. Whether you are being treated for your neck, low back or nerve pain there are many different approaches for the use of foam rolling. Before choosing a foam roller one should understand they range in firmness from soft to hard. Typically the lighter the color of the roller the softer is it. For example, white would be soft and black would be hard. Every brand is different, so be sure to read what firmness you are buying. Next you need to decide what length would be fitting for your lifestyle. I typically recommend getting the yard or 3 foot long roller if your home has the room. There are more activities you can do on the longer roller. However, if you are interested in traveling with one of simply don’t have the room to store the larger roller you can still do plenty on a foot long one.

I advise my patients to get a soft foam roller. Studies have shown most of those who use harder rollers tend to resist the pressure which becomes a counterproductive action. You want the roller to have the ability to get deep in the muscles without any resistance.

Foam rolling can be prescribed for pain relief, to decrease muscle tightness/tenderness, to increase flexibility and in some cases can alleviate nerve pain symptoms. Each exercise should be performed for at least 10 repetitions if tolerable. If 10 passes is easy for the patient they can try even timing their exercises and continuously roll for 1 minute at time. In this blog I will go over some basic foam rolling activities and describe what each can be used for.


Rolling your calves (back of lower leg) can be good for tight muscles, plantar fascia or cramping. When first starting this activity you can have both calves on the foam roller, but I would recommend crossing one leg over the other and focus on one leg at a time. That way more pressure can be applied in a smaller area. To find those tender spots try pointing your bottom foot to the left and right while rolling. The rolling should take place between the knee and back of ankle.


Rolling your hamstrings (back of thigh) is great for low back pain, tight muscles and increasing flexibility. You can start this activity the same as the calves, with both legs on the roller at once. However, I do recommend doing this with one leg crossed over the other in order to better concentrate the pressure. It should also be mentioned this rolling activity is great for your core! Roll from the back of your knee to your ischial tuberosity (sit bone). Make sure to not go up and over bones.


Rolling your iliotibial tracts (IT bands or outer side of thigh) can do remarkable things for knee pain, flexibility and posture. The targeted leg should be on the foam roller while the top leg has a bent knee and foot on the ground. The foot on the ground helps you roll. You can either have one or both elbows on the ground, whatever is most comfortable. For this roll start just above the side of your knee while working your way up to your greater trochanter (outer hip bones). Please don’t go up and over bones.


Rolling your quadriceps (front of thigh) can be good for low back pain, flexibility and knee pain. Similarly to the calves and the hamstrings, I recommend crossing one leg over the other the better focus the pressure on one leg at a time. You should be on both elbows for this activity. Start rolling just above the knee and stop when you touch your anterior superior iliac spine (front hip bones). Please don’t go up and over the bones.


Rolling your iliopsoas (hip flexor) is similar to rolling the quadriceps, but it is more concentrated in a smaller area. In this activity I recommend leaning completely on the targeted side so all body weight is focused in on the front of the hip. Rolling should performed in smaller movements here. The movement should range from the front of the hip bone to about one third down the front of the thigh.


Rolling your gluteus/piriformis muscles (buttock) is great for nerve pain, low back pain and flexibility. When doing this activity make sure you start with both hands on the ground behind you. You want to lean to the targeted side, allowing yourself to focus on one cheek at a time. The leg on top of the other is the targeted side, and the targeted side’s ankle should be on top of the opposite leg’s knee. If the position shown in the picture is unrealistic, you can always keep the bottom leg straight instead of bent. As balancing starts becoming less of an issue you can lean on the targeted side’s hand and use the other hand to grab onto the targeted side’s ankle. The rolling should occur between the top of the gluteus muscles to your ischial tuberosity (sit bone). Don’t go up and over the bone.


Rolling your thoracic spine (upper/mid back) is good for neck pain, mid back pain and flexibility. It is also a great chest opener. To do this make sure you always have you head supported by your hands and lean your head as far back as you can comfortably. To roll, keep your knees bent and feet on the ground and lift your bottom. The rolling should occur between you mid back (bra strap area) and up to your neck. Only roll as far up your back that you are comfortable with.


The next few activities are generally feel good exercises that can help increase range of motion, decrease nerve pain and increase flexibility. They are also great chest openers. This should only be performed with a 3 foot long roam roller. Getting on the foam roller vertically aligning your spine is the hardest part. Make sure once it is aligned with your spine you keep your knees bent and feet on the ground. Before starting this exercise try to make your spine as flat as possible. You can do this by doing a posterior pelvic tilt (flattening your low back) and a chin tuck (making your neck as flat as possible). From there try and perform something similar to a snow angel. Start with palms up. While keeping your arms straight and relaxed slide them on the ground all the way until both hands are touching each other above your head (like making a snow angel). The goal is to try and have your finger tips touch the ground the entire way up. If you aren’t flexible enough to touch the ground the entire way, go as far as you can comfortably. When getting off the foam roller in this position slide down and off to the side, don’t try and sit up right away to avoid falling.


Before starting this activity please read over previous explanation since it has the same starting position. This exercise should start with both hands towards the ceiling with palms facing each other. Slowly bring one arm above your head and one arm below. The goal is to keep both arms relatively straight and try and touch the ground with both hands. You can switch arms and alternate sides. Hold the end position for 3-5 seconds before switching sides.


Be sure to check out Rocky Mountain Physical Therapy locations throughout Northern Colorado. Feel free to contact Sara Blodgett PTA with any questions you may have at

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