Foam rollers have surged in popularity over the past decade. Foam rollers can be used to help boost circulation and improve flexibility and can also be beneficial in relieving back pain, if used properly. Board certified physical medicine and rehabilitation physician Dr. Ai Mukai explains how to use a foam roller for back pain on The Healthy.
“A few research studies have shown that foam rolling can improve joint range of motion, especially when coupled with static stretching,” says Ai Mukai, MD. “We know that tight hip flexors, hamstrings, and even knees can affect the lumbar spine and cause unhealthy pressure points and stress. Foam rolling has also been shown to delay muscle soreness and improve recovery.”
Foam rollers come in different softness and texture. In general, Dr. Mukai recommends softer foam rollers for beginners who might not be able to tolerate the deeper pressure that a harder one would provide. Rollers with texture can help get deeper into pressure points. There are also rollers that combine modalities such as heat, cold, and vibration with the massage, which can further help reduce soreness and inflammation, and relax muscles. For the neck, Dr. Mukai believes lacrosse balls and trigger point massagers do a better job of isolating the tight trigger points in the trapezius and muscles around the shoulder blade.
Foam rollers don’t always fix the underlying concern and may cause more harm if used incorrectly. Extreme pressure applied to the muscle can cause muscle damage or even bruise a bone. Dr. Mukai advises that you should be cognizant of the speed and location of where you’re applying pressure and your stability.
“Anything that can make you so unsteady that you end up being jerked into bad positions can hurt you,” says Dr. Mukai, “Also, the back has more superficial bones compared to some of the other muscular areas of the body and you can end up bruising the bones if you put too much pressure on the bony prominences.”
While foam rollers have proven to be helpful in muscle recovery and are used widely, they are not going to help with other types of musculoskeletal pain.
“[Foam rolling] won’t help with disc-related pain, nerve-related pain, or joint-related pain,” Dr. Mukai adds, “And as always, any nerve-related symptoms like numbness, weakness, and bowel or bladder incontinence should be a red flag to seek medical help.”
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Texas Orthopedics spine care team provides comprehensive back and neck treatment options to help manage symptoms and provide pain relief. Our team consists of board certified physical medicine and rehabilitation physicians and board certified orthopedic spine surgeons.
To learn more about Dr. Mukai and the rest of our spine care team, visit txortho.com or call (512) 439-1000.
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