Massage: How do you use a foam roller?

Esther Vliege
Esther Vliege Vrijdag, 2 oktober 2015
Massage: How do you use a foam roller?

​It is not surprising that you suffer from muscle pain, tiredness or stiffness after running. The good news: you can do something about this in a simple way. With a foam roller you massage yourself after running. But a foam roller can also be useful before your workout.

What is a foam roller?

A roll made of foam with a smooth or machined structure. You use a foam roller, for example, to massage your calves.

Selecting a foam roller

A foam roll about thirty centimetres long and twenty centimetres in diameter is often enough. In addition, the hardness is important. A good roller has a foam layer that you can press down lightly. Keep in mind that you can relax during the exercises. It is therefore a good idea to test the roller and get advice from a running shop.

How do you use a foam roller?

Pass the foam roller over your trigger points. A trigger point is a muscle knot, a hardening in the muscle that can cause local and radiating pain. You decide how much pressure you put on the muscle by using your own body weight. It is a way to relax your muscles and connective tissue. Remember that when you work with a foam roller, as with a sports massage, it is often not a pain-free treatment. However, the pain should disappear almost immediately when you take the pressure off your muscles.

Benefits of a foam roller

  • better circulation in your muscles
  • better and faster elimination of waste products
  • less pain around trigger points
  • less stiff and tired muscles
  • less muscle soreness
  • cheap and easy alternative to a sports massage

Foam roller exercises

To treat most muscle groups, place the foam roller on the floor and slowly roll the painful muscle group over it. Relax the conscious muscles, gradually increase the pressure and do not go beyond your own pain threshold. Roll over the painful area several times, or keep the pressure on the most painful point. You can easily do a massage with a foam roll yourself. On YouTube, for example, you can find various exercises. However, it is wise to do one or two sessions with someone who has experience, such as a sports physiotherapist. Then you can be sure that you are doing it right and you will get more out of it.

When to use a foam roller and when not to

You can use a foam roller as standard and preventively during your warm-up and cooldown. The foam roll is also useful for minor muscle complaints such as stiff upper legs or calves. Finally, a foam roll is a handy tool for stretching exercises, for example, for your back. But a foam roller is not a panacea. In the case of acute muscle complaints, such as a tear, it is not a solution and can considerably worsen the complaint. Therefore, always see a sports physiotherapist or your GP.

Safe use of foam rollers

  • use the foam roller for recovery, not for injuries
  • be kind to your muscles: better too light than too hard
  • the foam roller is not suitable for bones or tendon insertion points.
  • general rule: do not treat an area for longer than 30 seconds
  • stretch the muscle after that thirty seconds
Esther Vliege
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Esther Vliege

Esther Vliege schrijft onder andere voor de drie domeinen van de Atletiekunie (, en Als freelance journalist, copywriter en redacteur creëert ze content voor print en online. Als ze niet schrijft over hardlopen, loopt ze zelf een rondje door de duinen.