3 years ago

How To Use A Foam Roller For Back Pain Relief

Regularly using a foam roller can help to release painful muscle knots which reduces inflammation, irritation, and back pain.

foam roller for back pain

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Up until a few years ago the only foam rollers I'd heard of were the ones I used for glossing doors and panels. 

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 using one regularly can really help to get rid of your back pain? 


Well there are, which is great as so many people are struggling with tight muscle knots and pain in their lumbar spine nowadays.

And it's these muscle knots that are a major cause of back pain.

They can occur for many reasons, such as living a sedentary lifestyle, spending long hours driving, overdoing things in the gym, or just the stresses and strains of modern living. 

And they can be hard to work out and release without spending lots of money on regular massages.

However, there is a more cost effective way of releasing these knots and that is to foam roll.

This will also improve your flexibility, circulation, and range of motion too.

And you can do it anytime in the comfort of your own home.

So it sounds good right? Then read on and I'll explain how it all works.

But first let's take a look at what I consider to be the best foam roller to give you back pain relief.

The Best Foam Roller For Back Pain Relief

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

And these range from soft to firm, and smooth to textured, depending on your needs and pain threshold.

However, for releasing tight muscle knots and relieving back pain I'd recommend getting a textured foam roller that is a little more on the firmer side.

As this will be able to get deep into these knots as you try to release them.

So my top choice to foam roll for people with back pain is the TriggerPoint Grid Foam Roller.

As this one is both firm and textured, with different shaped nodules that drive deep into your muscle pain.

And as such it's widely used and recommended by physical therapists and athletes alike.

So all in all this is a great choice for keeping your back loose, relaxed, and pain-free

How Does A Foam Roller Give You Back Pain Relief?

Painful muscle knots can leave you feeling off colour.

As I've already mentioned, tight muscle knots are a major cause of back pain.

And there are two main reasons for this:

  • When a muscle knot forms it cuts off the blood supply to that area, which means that your tight and damaged muscles can't get the blood, oxygen, and nutrients they need to heal and repair.
  • This blockage also means that waste and toxins become trapped within your damaged muscles, which irritates them further.

So you need to release the muscle knot to get the blood circulating again and allow your body to heal itself.

And learning how to foam roll is a great way of achieving this.

As the pressure that laying on the foam roller mixed with your body weight will have on your muscle knot will stimulate it.

And this stimulation is exactly what it needs 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 you are:

  • Increasing blood flow to your damaged muscles, which will help to deliver the oxygen and nutrients they need to heal and repair.
  • Unblocking the pathways to allow 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 back pain and inflammation.

And foam rolling also brings extra health benefits for your back such as:

  • Preventing any muscle imbalances that may cause pain.
  • Improving your flexibility which relieves pressure on your back.
  • Increasing your range of motion which allows you to stay more active.
  • Preventing further injuries or strains from exercise of manual work.

So it makes sense to have one of these at home and to get into the habit of using it regularly.

How To Use A Foam Roller

Foam rollers work by using your body weight and the force of gravity 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 and roll up and down.

And this creates the stimulation your muscles need to start releasing.

So you need to place the foam roller underneath your area of pain, then slowly roll up and down a few times until you feel like you've hit a tender spot.

Then hold this position for 30 seconds to a minute, breathe deeply, and relax your body until the muscle begins to relax and release.

This is great for your back muscles, but you can also do it for your shoulders, glutes, hips, hamstrings, quads, and calves. 

So you can give your whole body a massage, which will keep you feeling loose, flexible, and happy.

And by foam rolling regularly (at least 3 times per week), you can help to keep your back and the surrounding areas pain-free.

The Best Foam Roller Exercises For Your Back

foam roller exercises for back

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

Here are some ways to foam roll that can really help to bring you relief from back pain.

And they don't all involve your back.

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

This is because your body works as a whole.

And each part needs to be functioning well for the whole unit to work, and to stop muscle knots and imbalances from forming.

So take a look at the following exercises and give them a try for yourself.

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

For Your Upper Back & 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 them as we go about our daily activities.

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

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.

For Your Glutes & 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, they can also lead to sciatic pain as the buttocks house your sciatic nerves.

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

For Your 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.

For Your Hip Flexors

Tight hips are a nightmare for your lower back.

As they limit your range of motion so much that your back is forced to work much harder than it should and with less support.

So if you're going to beat your back pain, keeping your hips stretched out and relaxed is an absolute must.

A 15-Minute Foam Rolling Workout For Back Pain

And finally, here's a full foam rolling workout to help you get relief from your lower back pain.

This incorporates exercises for the areas of the body I've just gone over, and is a nice and gentle workout that most people should be able to do.

The Dangers Of Using A Foam Roller Incorrectly

dangers of foam rolling

You may be 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.

Because while foam rolling is a great habit to get into for the health of your back, it can also cause you damage if done the wrong way.

So make sure you don't fall into any of the following traps.

And as with any new activity, you should always consult with your doctor or physician before you start to make sure it's safe for you to do.

Never Use A Foam Roller Directly On Your Lower Back

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

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

However this is most definitely not the case!

Because most lower back pain actually 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.

Which 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 even worse!

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

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

Don't Roll Directly On A Painful & Sensitive Area

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

And if that's 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 real pain rather than mild discomfort then stop and roll over the surrounding areas instead.

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

Don't Use The Foam Roller For Too Long

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

As sometimes rolling over the pain can feel satisfying, and you may think that the more you roll the quicker the muscle will release,

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.

Don't Roll Too Fast

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

As 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 the foam roller to get right into your knots and allow your muscles to begin to release.

Maintain A Good Posture As You Roll

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

This is because you are using your core muscles to hold your body in different positions as you roll.

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

So when you begin foam rolling, make sure you are getting the technique right from the off.

Rounding Up

Muscle knots are a major cause of back pain as they can lead to inflammation and irritation.

And the bad news is they can be hard to 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.

These are great for getting right into your knots, stimulating them, and encouraging them to relax and release.

Which increases blood flow to your damaged muscles that delivers the oxygen and nutrients they need to heal, as well as flushing away trapped waste and toxins.

And foam rolling also helps improve your flexibility and range of motion too, which both relieve pressure on your lower back.

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

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

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I'm a psychology graduate and a veteran of 5 spinal surgeries. I want to help people learn how to fight back against persistent back pain just like I have.

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