Foam rollers were first used as body supports to do balance work with in the 1980s, but in 1987 physical therapist Sean Gallagher started using them as a self-massage tool with his Broadway dancers and soon after that they became very popular in the dance community. From about 2005 and on, foam rolling has now become a highly regarded self-massage and recovery tool in most sports, especially running.

What is foam rolling?

Self-myofascial release, also known as foam rolling, has progressed from a once secretive technique used by professional athletes, therapists, and coaches, to a well-known recovery and massage technique used by people of all fitness levels.

Self-myofascial release is a fancy term for self-massage to release the tightness in your muscles and work on the different pain points present in your body after exercise. By applying pressure to the muscles and repeatedly working that tightness out, you are able to aid in the recovery of the muscles and help them return to normal function faster, meaning that your muscles are healthy, elastic, not sore, and ready to perform at their highest level.

What are pain points and how do I know if I have them?

Pain points are specific “knots” that form in muscles. They are unique and can be identified by using your foam roller to find points in the muscle that are particularly sore or painful. When rolling or working on tight/sore muscles you will experience discomfort or pain. Think of it like the pain you get while stretching. It should be uncomfortable, but not unbearable, and when you are done it should feel much better.

What causes these pain points and tight muscles?

They can be caused by a variety of things including: training, flexibility, movement patterns, posture, nutrition, hydration, rest, stress, intensity of training, volume of training, and more.

Why are pain points and tight muscles bad?

Constantly having knots and sore muscles restricts blood flow to the muscles, thereby inhibiting performance (making you feel tired or sluggish during exercise) and slowing down recovery which will negatively affect your training and put you at increased risk for injury.

How to use a foam roller:

  • Calves: Put the roller under either the left or right calf and rest your other foot on the floor. Roll from the ankle to below the knee and rotate the leg in and then out. To add more pressure to the movement, put your other leg on top of the calf you are rolling out and continue to perform the same movement. Switch legs and repeat.
  • Iliotibial (IT) Band: Lie on your side with the roller near your hip and rest the other leg’s foot on the floor in front of the leg you are rolling out. Roll along your outer thigh. To increase pressure, stack the resting leg on top of the leg you are rolling out. Switch legs and repeat.
  • Piriformis (buttocks): Sit on the roller and place one foot on the opposite knee. Lean into one buttock and roll forward and back, using your supporting leg to control the pressure. Switch legs and repeat.
  • Hamstrings: Place the roller under your thighs and roll from the knees to the buttocks. To increase pressure, roll one leg at a time and stack your other leg on top of the leg you’re rolling out. Switch legs and repeat.
  • Quadriceps: Lie on your stomach with a roller placed under the front of your thigh and slowly roll up and down from the bottom of your hip to the top of your knee. Switch legs and repeat.

What happens after foam rolling?

You may be sore the next day, but it should feel like your muscles have been worked/released. They may actually feel more sore the next day, but they should feel better during exercise and be less sore after working out. Also, give it 24-48 hours before focusing heavily on the same area again.

Where can I buy a foam roller?

Most running specialty, fitness, or sporting goods stores will carry foam rollers. They come in different sizes and densities, so be sure to test out multiple different rollers before purchasing.



Gallagher, Sean. Orthopaedic Physical Theraphy Clinics of North America. “Developing a Comprehenseive Warm-Up and Conditioning Program for Performing Artists”
Kuhland, Jeff. Breaking Muscle. “What Is A Foam Roller, How Do I Use It, And Why Does It Hurt?”,1
Hamilton, Michelle. Runner’s World. “How to Use a Foam Roller”
Photo Credit: Runner’s World