In this article, we take a look at the benefits of foam rollers and how to foam roller legs for recovery. When treating lower limbs it is important to use a balanced evidence-based approach.
Do you want to know how to foam roller legs?
You may be a cyclist or a runner and you may suffer from tight hips. These are common issues and we see people facing this a lot. It can be quite frustrating as you simply want to do activities you love however are unable to without the pain of tight muscles and restricted movement. Our expert therapist, Marsh Fernando, has created a lower limb program just for you!
Follow this article created for you to help you understand and to help your journey to recovery and get yourself enjoying the activities you want.
What does using a foam roller actually do?
Muscles are surrounded by a soft tissue known as fascia. It is thought that this tissue can influence flexibility and joint range of movement. Research suggests that using a foam roller is a form of Self Myofascial Release and that it makes the fascia more flexible and breaks down scar tissue and adhesions.
How long should I use it?
McDonald et al got good results from using the roller for just 2 minutes in the form of 2 x 1-minute sessions separated by a rest period of 30 seconds. Other research suggests between 1 and 5 minutes on each muscle group or working until a sensation of release is felt.
How to foam roller legs
The use of a foam roller depends on your goals and your body. If you are a flexible runner who seldom suffers from muscular tightness there may be very little benefit in doing regular sessions with the foam roller.
If like many runners, you struggle with persistent tight areas or are trying to stretch as part of rehab (e.g. ITB) you may want to use it every other day for a short period, until symptoms/tightness improves.
There is a balance here, as with most things. If you are too aggressive with the roller and use it too often you may cause a build-up of micro-trauma in the muscles and cause pain. A frequency of 2-3 times per week is usually adequate in most cases but you can increase this to as much as 3 times per day providing it isn’t increasing your pain levels and you make this change gradually.
In some ways using a foam roller is comparable to stretching and many stretching protocols recommend as much as 3 times per day so it should be feasible with a roller too.
You have to ask why is this area so tight, and why is it needing this level of input to release it Sometimes persistent muscle tightness continues due to weakness elsewhere or because you keep aggravating by continuing to train too much or too intensively.
What’s the correct technique when learning how to foam roller legs?
McDonald et al (2012), describe the technique in their article.
- Place as much of your body mass as possible on the foam roller (within pain limits).
- Begin at the proximal part of the muscle (the part closest to the body) and roll down the length of the muscle using short kneading like motions.
- Once you’ve covered the length of the muscle quickly return to the start position moving the roller in one fluid motion.
- Roll the length of the muscle 3-4 times within each 1-minute session.
Other studies used similar techniques with fairly similar time frames, however, what’s more, important is what works for you. If you have a technique you find effective for your needs then stick with it. There is also the technique of finding a sore area and holding the pressure on this area for 30-60 seconds or until you feel it release. This can be beneficial but is often very sore.
Does using the roller impair muscle performance?
One of the key findings of McDonald et al was that the roller increased flexibility without reducing muscle performance. Other studies have reported similar findings. As a result, some have recommended it as a part of a warmup to improve flexibility. However, none of these studies has demonstrated improved running performance or reduced injury rate as a direct result of using a foam roller. None the less it is important to learn how to foam roller legs properly to ensure good muscle recovery.
How to foam roller legs and where to focus
Plantar Fascia Release
While in standing/sitting, place a hardball under one foot, roll the ball under your foot to release plantar fascia. Continue this until the area is less painful and a little freer.
Foam Roll Calf
Sit on a foam roller and place your calf on top of it. Point your toes up and place your opposite leg on top of the other leg. Support your weight with your hands and feet and roll over the foam roller (from knee to ankle). This could be carried on for about 2-3 minutes if it’s not too painful.
Foam Roll Tib Anterior
Start on a four-point kneeling position with the front of one leg over the foam roller. Roll the entire front of your leg (outside of the tibia) up and down from your knee to your ankle. Maintain your abs tight and proper low back posture during the exercise. This could be carried on for about 2-3 minutes if it’s not too painful.
Foam Roll Hamstring
Sit on a foam roller and place your hamstrings on top of it. Support your weight with your hands and feet and roll over the foam roller. Maintaining a neutral posture during the exercise. This could be carried on for about 2-3 minutes if it’s not too painful.
Foam Roll Quad
Lay on your stomach on the floor with a foam roller placed above your knee on the front of your thigh. Support your weight with your elbows and roll over the foam roller. Now roll your self forwards and backward as shown in the video. This could be carried on for about 2-3 minutes if it’s not too painful.
Tennis Ball Lateral Quad Release
Lay on your side and take up a side plank position with the outside of one hip over the tennis ball and your other leg in front for support. Roll the entire outside of your leg from your pelvis to your knee in an up and down motion. Maintain a neutral posture during the exercise. This could be carried on for about 2-3 minutes if it’s not too painful.
For more information about foam rollers for lower limbs
If you would like additional information about foam rollers for lower limbs or to discuss how we may be able to help with treating your tight lower limbs please contact us and we will get back to you as soon as possible.