Guide To Foam Rolling For Back Health

Foam rolling might seem like something we don’t want to bother with. After all, isn’t that for serious athletes at the gym? However, foam rolling is a great way to loosen our muscles and stretch them in a way that regular stretching just cannot do. It allows our muscles to fully relax and releases the fascia that holds them tightly together. As a result, foam rolling is a great way to relieve pain and helps us feel better throughout the day. Here’s how to foam roll for back health

By the way, we’ve also got a foam roller training video as part of our Wysefit Back Health & Core Stability Program, so feel free to sign up and check it out!

Foam Rolling Stretches

1. Chest Opener With Foam Roller

Our PT Clarice Showing the Chest Opener Stretch Using a Foam Roller

Begin by placing your foam roller vertically on the floor. Sit on the bottom of the roller and lay down on it, so that the roller is directly underneath your spine. Your knees will be bent with your feet on the floor, and your head and neck should be fully supported on the roller. Instead of rolling, extend your arms out to the side and bend your elbows. You should feel your chest muscles stretch. Hold this position for 30 – 60 seconds. To go deeper into this stretch, squeeze your shoulder blades together! If you feel any intense pain, lower your elbows below your chest to relieve pressure. 

2. Upper Back Foam Rolling

Our PT Clarice Showing the Upper Back Stretch Using a Foam Roller

For this upper back stretch, we’ll move the foam roller into a horizontal position. Sit on the floor and lay back until your upper back on is on the foam roller. Place your hands behind your head to support your neck. Bend your knees and make sure your feet are flat on the floor. Gently lift your hips off the ground and move your body up and down so that the foam roller massages your upper back. Do not let the foam roller reach your neck! Go back and forth 4 – 5 times and slowly work your way up to longer sessions.

3. Quads Foam Rollout

Our PT Clarice Showing the Quads Stretch Using a Foam Roller

In order to foam roll our quads, we get to work on our plank form! Begin with your weight evenly distributed on your elbows and your thighs on the foam roller. Roll the entire length of your quads, but make sure not to go over your knee caps! You can leave your legs straight or bend your knees, so that your feet are up in the air. Roll this area 4 – 5 times.

4. Upper IT Band Rollout

Our PT Clarice Demonstrating the Upper IT Band Rollout Using a Foam Roller

For this stretch, we’ll use our side plank form! Lay on your side with your weight on your elbow and the foam roller under your bottom leg, near your glutes. Bend the top leg and place your foot on the ground in front of the bottom leg. This will provide stability and relieve pressure on your bottom leg. Our IT bands are often very tight, so this may be painful! If you find that your upper IT is really tight and painful to foam roll, you can combine it with the lower IT band stretch below.

Related: Wysefit Back Health & Core Stability Program (including Foam Rolling!)

5. Lower IT Band Rollout

Our PT Clarice Displaying Lower IT Band Roller Form

Using the same form as the upper IT band stretch, focus on your lower IT band – the area from the top of your knee to the half way point between your knee and hip. Focus on rolling your entire IT band for 30 – 60 seconds. Then, do the same on your other leg.  

6. Glutes Stretch With Foam Roller

Our PT Clarice Showing How to Roll Out Glutes With a Foam Roller

For this stretch, we get to sit! Begin by sitting on your foam roller, with your weight evenly distributed. Your feet should be flat on the floor, with your knees bent. Now, place your right foot on your left knee. Then, gently push down on your right knee and lean over onto your right glute and hip. You can place your hand on the ground for stability. Roll onto the bony protuberance of your hip several times. You’ll be sure to find some sore spots! Then, repeat this process on the left side.  

7. Psoas Foam-Rolling Stretch

Clarice showing how to target the psoas with a foam roller

We’ll finish our foam rolling session without another static stretch. The psoas muscle can get very tight and cause a lot of back pain! Lay down on your back and place the foam roller underneath your lower hips. You want it to be slightly above your glutes. Your knees will be bent with your feet firmly planted on the ground. Then, slowly lift your feet off the ground, with your knees still bent. Pull your right leg all the way towards your chest and hold your knee. Hold this pose for 45 – 60 seconds before releasing and doing the same with your left leg. 

Benefits of Foam Rolling

There are several benefits of foam rolling, including:

  • Improves mobility in our joints
  • Improves flexibility of our muscles
  • Breaks up old scar tissue
  • Prevents and relieves muscle pain
  • Hastens the recovery process
  • Flushes out lactic acid build-up
  • Improves our posture

Below, we’ll explain exactly how self-myofascial release using foam rollers works, and why you should make time in your busy schedule to do it!

The Fascia & You

Diagram showing the fascia part of our muscles

Before we dive into self-myofascial release, let’s learn a bit more about the fascia.

The fascia are a connective tissue “web” that links our muscles together, kind of like plastic wrap. Fascia help influence muscle contractions and coordinate muscles to work together for activities like running, jumping, and squatting.

We often feel pain and soreness in our muscles, which come as a result of aging, working out, or stress. Part of this pain is actually damage to fascia. This damage materializes in the form of tender knots and sore points on our muscles. If we neglect those knots and don’t treat them, it can have a negative effect on our body’s fascia. This can lead to injuries and imbalances in our muscles.

Self-Myofascial Release

To treat our muscle soreness, tightness, and knots, physical therapists widely recommend self-myofascial release, or SMR. Self-myofascial release sounds like a fancy term, but it’s actually fairly simple. It means to apply pressure to our muscles for the purpose of generating a reaction in our nervous system. This, in turn, helps the muscles to relax. Kind of like how massages work.

Foam rollers are super effective tools for self-myofascial release. Over time – whether due to aging, stress, or working out – our muscles get congested and collect toxins. This can cause pain, soreness, and tightness in our muscles. 

Benefits of Self-Myofascial Release Using Foam Rollers

Using a foam roller to apply pressure to a muscle is kind of like squeezing a sponge. Just like a sponge soaks up water after being squeezed, so too do your fascia freshen and rehydrate after compressive foam rolling. The relief you feel after foam rolling is the result of muscular “flushing” and the reuptake of hydration. Indeed, self-myofascial release using a foam roller helps to re-lubricate the fascia, muscles, and joints and eliminate toxins stuck in our muscles.

The National Academy of Sports Medicine states that self-myofascial release helps reduce soreness, muscle pain, and tightness. SMR can also temporarily increase our range of motion and decrease overall stress in the body. SMR achieves this by inducing relaxation and recovery by parasympathetically stimulating the nervous system. With this in mind, SMR with foam rollers has utility all the time — before and after workouts, after lunch, before bed — really any time of day!

Related: Wysefit Back Health & Core Stability Program (with Foam Rolling!)

Foam Rolling Tips

It’s very important that we take our time while foam rolling. It’s much more effective to slowly roll across our muscles, even if it is a little painful! When you find a hot spot, places that are particularly tight and sore, slowly roll away from those to the connecting muscles. You should spend some extra time on those hot spots, just don’t overdo it. Too much pressure can lead to bruising and can even cause nerve damage! If you have any sores or skin irritation, then don’t foam roll those areas – the pressure could make it worse! If you find foam rolling extremely painful, then you can make it a little easier by only putting part of your body weight on the area. As your muscles loosen, you can put your entire body weight on the roller to get the most of each foam rolling session! 

Proper Form with a Foam Roller

It’s really important that we practice proper form when we foam roll. Stay focused throughout the process – think of it as an extension of your workouts! If you roll too quickly or don’t practice proper form you could exacerbate any existing injuries or hurt yourself. If you’re too tired to foam roll, then take a break! You can always come back to it when you feel up to it. 

Foam rolling is a great way to relieve pain and improve our back health. Start with short sessions that last about 15 minutes and work your way up to longer session. And remember, the more you foam roll, the better it will feel! Daily practice will have you feeling better in no time!