Many of my readers have asked me about foam rollers. Can they really eliminate muscle pain that develops over time? If you're looking for more than temporary relief - no, they don't. In fact, they might even invoke the stretch reflex, making the muscles tighter than they were before. Do they help move lymph through your body after a tough workout or run? Possibly. Do they teach your hips to move better and more fluidly so that you don't have hip pain, and, in turn, knee and foot pain? Definitely not.
Tight muscles that you feel need to be "rolled" are often in a state of Sensory Motor Amnesia.
Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) is the condition of chronically contracted muscles that won't "turn off." These muscles have learned to stay involuntarily (therefore, unconsciously) contracted in response to accidents, injuries, surgeries, overtraining, trauma, and stress. They are stuck in a constant feedback loop of contraction. No amount of foam rolling will eliminate muscle tension that is involuntarily contracted.
The way you move is a reflection of what's going on in your nervous system.
The point being: if you don't address the nervous system and how it controls muscles and movement, you won't create substantive improvement in your ability to relieve tight hips, glutes, iliotibial bands or back pain after a workout, run or day at the office. The brain needs to be involved in the solution. When there is accumulated tension in the center of the body (back, abdominals, waist) the extremities will be tight.
Because chronic muscle tension is a reflection of one's nervous system, that which is unconscious is that which the brain cannot voluntarily control. When you realize that you can't move as freely as you once did, or that you don't have the balance or sense of stability you used to (before that accident, "killer workout," or injury) there's enough pain and restriction of movement that you finally take notice. SMA is the "canary in the mine shaft" in regards to muscle dysfunction. If you find that your hips are always tight, your gait is "off," your pelvis is twisted or your leg length is uneven, this is a sure sign that your brain and nervous system have forgotten how to fully control your muscles. Until you get the brain back in the driver's seat and learn to restore muscle length and function, and optimum balance and coordination of the front, back and sides of your body, you will struggle against yourself in an effort to move with ease.
How do you regain sensory awareness and relieve muscle pain?
Through opening up new pathways in your brain and doing movements you might not usually do (this applies to athletes every bit as much as the seated office worker) you teach the brain and muscles to move more precisely and intelligently from the center of the body outward. This is the key to not needing to use foam rollers, Thera Canes, or other gadgets to release muscles and improve flexibility and ease.
Muscles that you're told need to be rolled after every workout so that they don't develop adhesions can be easily and rapidly released through the technique of pandiculation. Pandiculating muscles "wakes up" the awareness of the muscles at the brain level (just as a good yawn does), reduces accumulated muscle tension in the muscles, and resets the brain's ability to accurately sense and control the muscles. This kind of intentional "re-boot" of muscle function makes a lot of sense. Animals in the wild pandiculate - up to 40 times a day! Pandiculation - a brain reflex designed to reset motor function keeps their sensory motor nervous system is in charge at all times. This means that animals don't get muscle strains and pulls the way humans do.
If your hips, quads, back, or iliotibial band are always tight after a workout or run, I would suggest incorporating some preventive Essential Somatic Movement in your workout warm-up and cool down.
Tight hips? Remember: tight hips are caused by tight back, waist, and abdominal muscles that don't allow for movement in the pelvis when you walk. Check out these Somatic Exercises for the hips. You may also be interested in my Leg & Hips Joints DVD.
Iliotibial band pain?Watch this video. Learning to release the hips and regaining a smooth gait is the key to being able to prevent iliotibial band pain.
Several blog posts ago I provided suggestions regarding Somatics "warm-ups" and "cool-downs" that can help improve one's muscle function during a workout. Go back and review them. You'll be glad you did.