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Foam rollers are getting a lot of attention lately, with devotees falling over themselves on social media to talk about they help ease muscle pain and tightness before or after a workout. But we've seen exercise gadgets come and go, so why is this one different?
Firstly, it's considered to be a tool that you use alongside your fitness regime of choice rather than a gadget that you use to get fit or strong. Foam rollers also have their roots outside the fitness world: first as a tool for body support in a movement-based education programme in the 1980s, and later adopted by dancers on Broadway to massage their muscles after strenuous shows. By 2007 physiotherapists, and other massage therapists were making them part of daily use to treat muscle pain and fascia issues.
The muscular system can function, and is basically held together, because of tissue called fasciae. Collectively, this connective tissue, which surrounds and interpenetrates every muscle, bone, nerve and organ, comprises a three-dimensional full-body "catsuit" that provides a network of support and structure for the body.
It also forms part of a body's kinetic chain, which is made up of the soft tissue system (muscle, tendon, ligament, and fascia), central nervous system and joints. This chain works as an integrated functional unit. All components of the kinetic chain exist interdependently.
If one segment is not functioning efficiently, then the other components must compensate, leading to tissue overload, fatigue, faulty movement patterns and injury. The fasciae also have a huge influence on how we move, on our posture, our perception of pain and the muscular system.
Myofascial release (MFR) is a therapy technique in which pressure is applied to fasciae and muscles. The focused pressure helps to prevent muscle ache and improve recovery of the muscles. This eventually leads to the increase of physical mobility, flexibility and ultimately, performance. Foam rollers offer the option of self-myofascial release (SMFR), or self-massage, before or after a workout to release muscle tensions and improve blood flow to certain muscle groups.