Using a foam roller to ease back pain

66fit foam roller 45 cmIf, like me, you struggle with lower back pain, then activities like hillwaking and cycling are likely to cause you problems. A foam roller could be an answer, though.

A roller is a very simple piece of exercise equipment. It works on the basis of myofascial release, which is a soft tissue therapy focusing on the connective tissues, and makes use of the user’s weight to apply sustained pressure to specific parts of the body. It’s a fairly simple principle to grasp, and you’ll understand the benefit if you’ve had stiffness in muscle groups released by physio or sports massage. The relief can be heavenly!

Rollers are generally available in two sizes – long and short – and vary in terms of firmness. The longer roller allows you to perform a wider variety of core exercises; the shorter roller makes targeting muscle groups that little bit easier and is more portable (mine now comes away with me on holiday or while I’m working away). Newcomers are meant to start with softer rollers and work up to firmer models. I started with the firmest roller due to my weight, and I’m glad I did as I’d be trading up right now.

(Note: Foam rolling is no substitute to seeing a professional therapist, but it can work alongside these therapies. If you are thinking of giving foam rolling a try, PLEASE TALK TO YOUR THERAPIST FIRST.)

Time on the bike or in the hills results in tightness in my quads, hamstrings and, particularly, my gluteus maximus. A series of seemingly gentle exercises releases this tension, which, in turn, releases stiffness in my lower back.

I say these exercises are ‘seemingly gentle’ because, at first, they hurt… really hurt in my case.

In common with massage, it can be uncomfortable working on ‘trigger points’ with the roller. Persevere, though, and the pain recedes and a few mins of work a day keeps muscles supple which improves overall flexibility.

I find the roller particularly useful just after activity, in addition to my daily maintenance routine. If you sit at a desk for work, it’s a great way to loosen tight hip flexors at the end of the day.

Another benefit of these exercises has been overall strength. Many require you to support part of your body weight while rolling and I have felt benefit in my arms, shoulders and abdominals. These associated benefits, I believe, help improve my overall resilience to injury while on the hill or bike.

Greater ‘muscle health’ has made me faster on two wheels, too, judging by my training rides.

There are plenty of resources and videos online that will show how to exercise with a roller. The advice is to take your time and really concentrate on working those problem areas. I hope you get the same relief that I have so far.

About Matt Hobley

Hillwalker, backpacker, cyclist, whisky fan.
This entry was posted in Cycling, Gear, Walking and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Using a foam roller to ease back pain

  1. Nice product, my shoulders, neck and back are always sore after walking as I carry my son in his child carrier on my back. My legs don’t get that sore though… how much are they? Thanks, David.

  2. northernwalker says:

    Hi David. They are fairly inexpensive. Mine was about £11 from Amazon. The longer ones tend to be a bit more expensive. You can pick them up in supermarkets from time to time when they are stocking seasonal exercise gear.

  3. Pingback: Northern Walker’s 2012 | Northern Walker

  4. Lisa says:

    I use a trigger point foam roller which I find to be much better than the regular foam roller…you should give it a try..(http://back-pain-relief-products.net/reviews/trigger-point-foam-roller/)

    • northernwalker says:

      I am indeed aware of these. I’m getting the relief I need with the foam roller but imagine this would work well on my pesky piriformis!

  5. Donald says:

    Hi, would really appreciate if you could shed some light on Hyperlordosis (excessive anterior pelvic tilt), as I know it coz when I stand straight the gap is enough to fit a whole hand. I have been starting to foam roll the side waist/lower back, strengthening the abs and glutes and hammies, also to keep on stretching the hip flexors and psoas. Been trying to foam roll the lower back/waist however when rolling once after a long “sweet spot” i found my back to ache like muscle pain, assuming i have injured it somehow from sitting on the roller for too long after reaching the “sweet Spot”. Can you provide some alternatives on easing the pain on the low back cause by hyperlordosis?

    • northernwalker says:

      Hmmm… not sure I can help you there. My issue is the complete opposite of an exaggerated lumbar curve. It sounds like you have a good programme of stretching and strenghtening but perhaps the roller is not the way to go to counter that particular issue. As I say, I’m no expert, but can only advise on what has helped me in the past. Perhaps others reading this will have a view, though.

  6. Donald says:

    Thanks for the tips and insights, what should the foam rolling duration per muscle group be, or even stretching if they are similar?

    • northernwalker says:

      Having worked on this with my physio, I tend to stretch and work muscles in order to losen or ‘release’ them, if I can. However, I urge caution here. If things are really hurting, don’t do them. If I’m having a bad day, this may invovle working a particular area… say piriformis or calves… for more time in order to acheive an adequate release. If I have managed this, I tend to feel improvement almost immediately. That said, I think there is a difference between daily maintenance and more focused programmes of stretching which may take many weeks to acheive the desired effect.

  7. Donald says:

    So I’m guessing you are more towards stretching/rolling whenever the parts are tight or not comfortable? what about injured/sore muscles (not from workout), be it a sprain or overstretched ones?

    • northernwalker says:

      that’s right… if injured/torn, the best thing to do is rest, I believe.

      • Donald says:

        Hi actually I have seen a doctor, it’s more like a bone bruise, maybe due to the constant bodyweight/pressure on the T12 rib bone. But nonetheless he told me to rest and not do anything. May I ask if stretching muscles are fine? as long as they dont hurt too much?

      • northernwalker says:

        If your doctor says rest, then I would rest. It’s possible to irritate an injury with activity if it has not had sufficient time to heal.

  8. Donald says:

    may i ask have you ever had a bone bruise from hiking/cycling long distances (or from others’ experiences)? If so how long will it take to heal until I dont feel discomfort/jolt when the injured part is activated?

    • northernwalker says:

      I don’t think I’ve ever suffered from this problem but I am aware of it and that it can take a long time to heal in some cases. Weeks, even months, I believe.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s