The Basics of Foam Rolling

We’ve been teaching patients how to use foam rollers in the clinic for a while now. We thought we’d just share our thoughts and tips with you so that you can start trying it at home too.

First of all, you’ll need a foam roller. Just get a smooth one to start with as one with texture can be quite painful.

The idea is to release the tension in the muscles and fascia. Dr Gill gives a great explanation of fascia and the need to introduce movement back into tissues that have become stiff and painful. It is difficult to fully stretch or contract a muscle that is riddled with knots so if you could keep on top of them yourself, at regular intervals at home, you would surely feel the benefits.

This also seems to be the year of “self-care” where people are starting to realise that looking after yourself is nothing to feel guilty about! Well foam rolling fits right in with that ethos. If you spend 10-15 minutes foam rolling a day you could also count that as “you time”.

Make sure there are no distractions.

Having the telly on in the background is fine but maybe better to have some relaxing music on. You definitely shouldn’t be answering emails or scrolling social media while you foam roll!

Feel the pain.

When you’re on a muscle you’re actively looking for the painful parts. I know it’s difficult but try and find the pain and stay with it. It should feel like a dull, generalised ache that can be quite strong. Stay with it until you feel the pain easing off.


Breathing into the pain with help you relax into it as well as help you get through it! Try and make your “out” breath longer than your “in” breath. This stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system which helps you relax even more.

Roll slowly.

You’re aiming to stay on each muscle for a good couple of minutes so you can afford to move slowly. Find a painful area and stay with that until it releases and then move slowly to the next part. Don’t roll like you’re rolling out some pastry!

By the time you’ve been through 5 or 6 muscle groups, you’ll be feeling relaxed, loose and ready to take on whatever comes next. When the foam roll starts to feel too easy you can progress to a hard ball of some kind (eg. Cricket, hockey or tennis ball).