Regain Your Momentum

Momentum Physical Therapy

This blog was created as a reference for our patients, the public and for anyone who is interested in the human body and its capabilities and limitations. It is a combination of our experience, our point of view, and what is currently in the literature regarding physical therapy, human movement, injury and corrective strategies for injury recovery.

Contact Info

Address: 141 Main Street Milford, MA 01757
Phone: 508.422.0101
Fax: 508.422.0102

Monday, June 14, 2010

The foam roller: “a steam roller for your muscles”

The foam roller is a great tool to assist in improving your muscle flexibility. Many of us have seen these at our fitness centers, but don’t know what they are used for. The come in different colors and sizes and look like big “pool noodles.” Some even look medieval with ridges. If you have always been curious about what the foam roller is used for, then this article was written especially for you!

Why use the foam roller?
The foam roller as stated above is a way to improve your muscle flexibility. It essentially is a way for you to give yourself a deep massage. It is primarily used for the larger muscles in the lower body, but there are some basic techniques to address the upper back muscles as well. Many of us know it is a good idea to stretch. Some of us even stretch on a religious basis, but don’t find that our flexibility never significantly improves. This is because our muscles are covered in fascia. Fascia is a web-like structure that is interconnected throughout the body. To visualize, think of the last time you cleaned a chicken breast. The film covering the chicken is fascia. This is what covers are muscles as well.

Over time, this covering over our muscles can becomes tight and “wound-up,” pulling in various directions. This excessive pulling causes increased tension and compression on the underlying muscle and often can contribute to pain.

Why does the fascia become tight?
There are many reasons why the fascia over certain muscles becomes tight. It may happen as a result of increased exercise when certain muscle groups are worked harder than others. Fascia may also become tight after surgeries, immobilization or sustaining one position for an extended period of time.

How will it help my flexibility?
Think about what would happen if you had a piece of duct tape wrapped tightly around your thigh muscle as you tried to stretch it. Not much would happen, right? This is essentially what happens if the fascia becomes tight and adheres to the underlying muscle too firmly. Unless we “loosen up” this duct tape, the muscle will not be able to stretch appropriately.

How can the foam roller help?
The foam roller acts as a steam roller to the fascia. It will gradually loosen-up the “duct-tape,” and allow the muscle to be stretched. The foam roller also aids in reducing tender points and “knots” in the muscles. It can be very helpful in reducing muscle soreness after increased exercise or sports.

How do I use the foam roller?
It is best to have a physical therapist properly educate you how to use the foam roller. In general, the roller is used on the larger muscles in the lower body. Usually, each muscle is rolled very slowly for 1-2 minutes. Of course, if this is the first time using the roller, less time may be appropriate as a tight muscle usually feels a little sore to start. If a “knot” is felt, 30 seconds of sustained pressure from the roller directly on that spot will slowly release the tension. Again, please consult with a physical therapist or other trained professional for the proper use for YOUR body.

How often should I roll my muscles?
In general, you should use the roller 1x per day. Many athletes are instructed to use the roller as a warm-up prior to their work-out/sport and then again at the end. Using the roller at the completion of the athletic event or training session, will significantly reduce the muscle soreness over the next 12-24 hours.

It hurts! Should I still use the foam roller?
As mentioned earlier, when you are using the foam roller for the first time, you will likely experience soreness within the muscle that is tight. If you stick with it, you will see a substantial reduction in the soreness within a few weeks. Experiencing muscle soreness while you use the roller is normal. As soon as you get off the roller, the soreness will stop. In fact, many people feel much better after they use the foam roller on a regular basis. Of course if the soreness does not feel like normal muscle tightness, please stop and consult with a trained professional.

What is the difference between the rollers?
Variety is the spice of life, so they say… As with everything else, there are many choices with the foam roller. Manufactures have their own color-coded system to depict the density and material the roller is made of. The more firm/dense the roller is, the deeper the massage effect to the muscles. In general, if you are using the foam roller for the first time, you should not jump into the high density choice. This is usually too aggressive for first-timers.

Remember, the foam roller is used as an adjunct to stretching. It does not take the place of stretching. If you feel as though your flexibility needs a boost, try the foam roller prior to stretching.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

To Stretch or Not To Stretch… That is the Question…

From our elementary school gym teachers to the famous Jack Lalanne, stretching has been engrained in us as a way to stay fit and prevent injury. But is stretching always good?

Everyday more and more people are investing in their health by joining fitness centers, staying active, and changing their lifestyle. Many of us have joined a gym for the first time in our lives. We learn by watching and mimicking others.

Our busy schedules with work and family don’t always allow for proper preparation for these fitness activities. Who has time! We want more bang for our buck. We want to see changes in our fitness level, smaller waistlines and approval from the doctor that our blood pressure is decreasing. Unfortunately, stretching doesn’t give your these direct results.

So why place so much emphasis on stretching?

Tight muscles will excessively pull on bones and place the body in abnormal positions. Staying in these positions for long periods of time will cause further stress to joints, cartilage and ligaments, leading to potential injury and PAIN!!

Is stretching always good?

Absolutely not! Many tight muscles occur from imbalances at other areas of the body. Weakness in one muscle will cause overactivity in another, as a form of compensation. The muscle that is now doing all of the work will gradually become “over-worked” and tight! Unfortunately, just stretching the tight muscle will not do you any good. You must identify and strengthen the weak muscle as well.

An example of this phenomenon is often observed in individuals with tight hamstrings. Proper balance between the gluteal or “buttock” musculature with the hamstrings is essential in maintaining optimal hip and pelvic alignment. Many individuals are weak in their buttock muscles, thereby causing the hamstrings to work in overdrive. This will lead to increased tension in the hamstrings and potential muscular injury or strain. If this imbalance persists over a long period of time, injury and pain to the hip may also be experienced.
What Can You Do?

Have your flexibility and strength be evaluated by a trained professional. Not everyone needs to stretch their hamstrings! Too many people think that certain muscles in their body should always be stretched, because that is what they have always been taught. This is not true. The human body is unique. Depending on your body type, fitness level and what activities you perform on a daily basis will dictate how certain muscles function.
With time being so scarce and valuable, no one wants to waist time stretching a muscle that they don’t need to stretch in the first place.

Take Home Message:
The body is a complex system that will function optimally if everything is working in balance. If you feel that your work-out is not fully addressing your potential imbalances, don’t wait to have things be evaluated. Your body will thank you for it in the end!