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foam roller for back pain

​Regularly using a foam roller can help to release painful muscle knots, reducing inflammation, irritation and back pain. Find out why you should give it a try here. 

Up until a few years ago I thought foam rollers were just for glossing doors and panels. 

And to be fair they still do a great job of this.

However did you know there are different types of foam rollers that are specifically designed to help you release your sore and tight muscles?

And that by using one regularly you can really lower your levels of back pain? ​

No? ​

​Well there are, and this is especially important as tight muscles and muscle pain are so common nowadays.

And sore muscle knots and muscle imbalances are a major cause of back pain.

Now these knots can occur due to many things such as living a sedentary lifestyle, spending long hours driving, overdoing things in the gym and the stresses and strains of modern living. 

​And they can be hard to work out and release without spending lots of money on deep-tissue sports massages.

However by regularly using a foam roller you can also keep these muscle knots at bay without spending a packet.

And it will also improve your flexibility, circulation, and range of motion.​

Sound good? Read on and I'll explain how this all works.​

Back On Site Recommends The TriggerPoint Grid Foam Roller.​

What Are Muscle Knots And How Do They Cause Pain?

What are muscle knots?

Painful muscle knots can leave you feeling off colour.

Muscle knots (also known as trigger points) are small areas of contracted muscle that cause pain and discomfort not only in the affected area, but also in other areas of the body.

In fact muscle knots are more often than not the cause of back pain rather than anything spinal or structural.​

​They hurt because when the muscle gets tight and contracted it cuts off it's own blood supply.

This leads to two major problems:​

  • The muscle doesn't receive the oxygen and nutrients it needs to heal and recover.
  • Waste and toxins can't be flushed away and therefore build up inside the muscle. 

And this blockage and the trapped waste lead to further inflammation, irritation and causes your muscles to feel even tighter and more painful.

A vicious circle unless you learn to treat it.​

So you need to find a way of releasing these muscle knots and blockages when they occur and there are various methods to do this such as deep-tissue massageacupuncture, trigger point therapy, acupressure mats and self massage techniques.​

However another way you can do this cheaply and in the comfort of your own home is by using a foam roller.

How Does Using A Foam Roller Help Your Back Pain?

foam roller helps back pain

"Will that be ribbed or smooth Sir?"

If your back pain is caused by tight and sore muscle knots, your first step to treating it is to release them again.

So how can muscle knots be released?

​Firstly you need to locate the painful trigger point within the knot and then stimulate it by applying some pressure to it for a short period of time (between 20-30 seconds).

This stimulation will cause the muscle knot to start releasing, giving you a satisfying feeling as the muscle gently spasms.

This is known in the trade as 'self-myofascial release' and by releasing the knot this way you are:​

  • Increasing blood flow to the sore muscles which will help to deliver the oxygen and nutrients they need to repair and heal.
  • Unblocking the pathways which allow the trapped waste and toxins to be flushed away from the damaged muscle.

This will lead to a release of tension in your muscles while also reducing pain and inflammation.

​All great news for your back!

Using a foam roller is a great way of stimulating these painful muscle knots as they can hit the hard to reach places that your hands can't.

And it's not just your back pain that benefits from regular foam rolling as it can also:​

  • Help to prevent injuries from manual work or exercise.
  • ​Correct any muscle imbalances (a big cause of back pain).
  • Break up scar tissue.
  • Improve your flexibility.
  • Increase your range of motion.
  • Get rid of lactic acid.

Not bad for a roll of foam eh?

How To Use A Foam Roller

How to use a foam roller

"They see me rollin', they be hatin'"

Foam rollers work by using your body weight to create pressure on your trigger points as you roll over them.

So by placing the foam roller underneath you your body weight helps it to massage deep into your sore muscles as you rest on it or roll up and down.

​This creates the stimulation your muscles need to start releasing.

The aim is to slowly roll up and down a certain area around 4 times, stopping and holding for between 20-30 seconds when you feel like you've hit a tender spot.​

You can do this under many of your large muscle groups such as your upper back, shoulders, glutes, hips, hamstrings, quads and calves. ​

This brings a release of tension from your sore muscles ​along with all the benefits I went through in the previous section.

And doing this regularly (at least 3 times per week) will help to keep your back and surrounding areas feeling loose and free.​

The Dangers Of Using A Foam Roller Incorrectly

Now you may thinking by now that using a foam roller sounds great, and for the most part it is.

But I just need to add a couple of words of caution before you begin.

Firstly, as with any new treatment for your back pain you should always consult your doctor or physician before ​you start to make sure it is safe for you to do.

​And secondly it is vital that you make sure you are using your foam roller correctly.

Because while using a foam roller can be a great way to release painful muscle knots and reduce your back pain, it can actually make your problems worse if you do it incorrectly.

So make sure you never do any of the following:

1. NEVER Use The Foam Roller Directly On Your Lower Back​

This is a mistake that a lot of people unwittingly make.

They think that because they feel tight muscles in their lower back that they need to use the foam roller directly on this area.

However this is most definitlely not the case!

​Firstly most lower back pain comes from tension in the surrounding areas such as the hips, groin and hamstrings.

And more importantly, our lower backs don't have the same structural support as our upper backs.

This means that they struggle to withstand the pressure from the foam roller and as a protective measure the muscles in the spine begin to contract.​

Which puts you at greater risk of injuring yourself and making your pain and inflammation worse.

So instead work on the surrounding areas such as the hip flexors, glutes and quads.

Releasing muscle knots in these areas will all have a major impact on your lower back pain. 

2. Don't Roll Directly On A Painful And Sensitive Area

While it is good to roll over most muscle knots to release them, sometimes the area may be too inflamed and sensitive to be able to do this.

If that is the case then rolling directly over it will just lead to further inflammation and slow down the healing process.

So you need to use your judgement here.

If you're rolling over an area and you feel pain rather than mild discomfort stop and roll over the surrounding areas instead.

And only go back to the painful area once it has calmed down a bit.​

3. Don't Use The Foam Roller For Too Long On Your Muscle Knots.

It can be tempting to use the foam roller for a long time over your most painful and stiff areas of muscle.

However if you do this for too long it can actually cause bruising along with nerve or tissue damage.

So aim to spend no more than a couple of minutes on any one area, and only between 15-30 seconds on your most sensitive areas at a time.​

4. Don't Roll Too Fast!

Rolling up and down on the foam roller too fast makes the whole process counter productive.

By doing this your muscles don't get the time they need to relax, release and feel the benefits.

So instead you need to make sure you are using slow and mindful movements as you roll.

Aim for about 1" of movement per second.​

This will allow your muscles to begin to release.​

5. Make Sure You Maintain A Good Posture As You Roll

As with any type of exercise you need to make sure you are maintaining a good posture as you use a foam roller.

This is because you are using your core muscles to hold your body in different positions while you do it.

And if you do this with poor form you are increasing the chances of injuries and muscle imbalances developing.

So when you start off foam rolling make sure you are getting the technique right from the off.​

Foam Roller Exercises For Your Back

foam roller exercises for back

The chairs at Bobs new gym left a lot to be desired.

Ok so now you know what not to do, let me introduce you to some foam roller exercises that can really help to bring you relief from back pain.

And even if your pain is limited to a single area of your back it's a good idea to work on all of the following areas.

This is because your body works as a whole.

Each part needs to be functioning well for the whole unit to work and to stop muscle knots and imbalances from developing.​

So I'll write a brief description of why you need to do each one while also adding a YouTube video that demonstrates exactly how to do them.​

Just remember to roll slowly, don't do it for too long, and hold for 20-30 seconds whenever you hit a trigger point. ​

Foam Roller Exercise For Upper Back and Thoracic Spine

The upper back, shoulders and thoracic spine are all areas of the body that are prone to developing muscle knots and pain.

This is because we hold a lot of stress and tension in these areas as we go about our daily activities.

And this can lead us to adopt a hunched posture that increases the strain on our lower backs.

So keeping your upper back rolled out and loose will help you to release this stress, maintain a healthy posture and keep your lower back happy.​

Foam Roller Exercise For The Glutes and Piriformis Muscle

Unfortunately tight buttocks go hand in hand with lower back pain.

And not only do they increase the load on your lower back, tight glutes can also lead to sciatic pain as the buttocks house your sciatic nerves.

So keeping your glutes and piriformis muscle stretched out and rolled is vital if you're going to tackle lower back pain.​

Foam Roller Exercise For The Hamstrings

Tight hamstrings are both a cause and a byproduct of lower back pain.

Personally I have to stretch mine out a few times every day to stop them from tightening up.

And this is important.

Because tight hamstrings will affect your posture, range of motion and increase the strain on your lower back.

So keep them loose by doing these exercises regularly.

Foam Roller Exercises For The Hip Flexors

Tight hips are a nightmare for your lower back.

They limit your range of motion so much that it forces it to work much harder than it should with less support.

So if you are going to beat your back pain, keeping your hips stretched out and relaxed is what you need to be aiming for.​

A Full 15-Minute Foam Roller Workout For Your Back Pain

And if you want a whole routine that puts all these exercises together the following video is a nice and gentle workout that most people should be able to do.

The Best Foam Roller For Your Back Pain

There are a multitude of foam rollers on the market for you to choose from.

These range from soft to firm and smooth to textured depending on your needs and pain threshold.

However for self myofascial release of muscle knots I'd recommend getting a textured foam roller that is a little more on the firmer side.

This will allow you to get deep into these knots as you try to release them​.

And my choice for a great foam roller for this purpose is the TriggerPoint Grid Foam Roller.​

Pros:

  • The different textures on the surface are great for getting right into hard to reach muscle knots.
  • This model is widely used by physical therapists and professional athletes for recovery and prevention from injury.
  • The firm density of this roller makes it ideal for self myofascial release.
  • Made from quality materials that mean it will withstand regular use. This roller is built to last.
  • You get access to online instructional videos when you buy one of these rollers so you'll know exactly how to use it. 

Cons:

  • May feel a bit intense for beginners at first until they get used to the sensation.

​All in all this is a great roller for keeping your back loose, relaxed and free of knots.

You can buy yourself a TriggerPoint Grid Foam Roller by clicking here.

However if you want a slightly softer option as you start out with foam rolling, you could go for the Amazon Basics High-Density Foam Roller.

AmazonBasics High-Density Round Foam Roller - 18-Inches

This roller is more forgiving (although still firm) and will allow you to build up your tolerance before moving on to the more intense foam rollers. ​

Rounding Up

Don't get tied up in knots over your back pain.

Muscle knots are a common problem and a major cause of back pain.

This is because they cut off the blood supply and trap waste and toxins in the damaged muscle.

Which leads to inflammation, irritation and more pain!​

The bad news is they can be hard to treat and get rid of ​without undergoing regular and expensive massage therapy.

However one way of saving cash and self-treating your muscle knots is by regularly using a foam roller.

By getting right into your knots the foam roller stimulates your contracted muscles and helps them to release.​

 This reduces pain and inflammation by increasing the blood supply and flushing away trapped waste.

And it can also improve your flexibility and range of motion too.

So ​if you struggle from tight and painful muscles in your back don't hesitate to give foam rolling a try.

As long as you make sure you are using the foam roller correctly it will put you on the road to a healthier and happier back.​

Resources used in researching this article:

https://michaelgleibermd.com/news/dos-donts-foam-rolling-back-pain/​

https://www.masterofmuscle.com/us/top-7-benefits-of-foam-rolling-every-day/​

Daniel

A 30-something painter and decorator, psychology graduate, and veteran of 5 spinal surgeries. Looking to explore the physical, psychological and emotional effects of living with chronic low back pain.

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