Stretching for your health
Everyone needs to stretch—I truly believe that. Even if you aren’t a regular exerciser, doing stretches a few times a week helps your mobility and function on a daily basis. You may perform some without even realizing it: arching your back as you stand up after sitting at your desk, rolling your neck around if you’ve been hunched over the computer, or raising your arms up over head when you get up in the morning. It just feels good!
Because of my history of injuries (knee and neck), I stretch almost every day. But lately that has not been enough. My knee has been hurting, and I haven’t been able to do the workouts I want to do without sharp pain through the joint.
That’s not good. So, with my husband’s help, I’ve been adding in soft tissue release…OUCH! Let me just tell you a little about it, and how you can start doing some to feel better.
What is it?
If you’ve ever had a massage, you’ve experienced some soft tissue release. Basically, pressure is applied to the muscle as it is stretched. Some areas just felt good, but every once in a while, the therapist hits a spot that makes your eyes bug out. They gently worked the area, and soon it felt loose and relaxed.
I think regular massage is a great way to keep your body feeling it’s best. This technique can help you move more freely, correct muscle imbalances, help muscular injuries heal and assist in alleviating chronic pain.
But, you may not always be able to get in for a massage, or afford it on a weekly basis.
Hello, Foam Roller!
You may have seen these in your gym, but not ever used one. It is literally a round, dense tube of foam, usually about 24” – 36” long. They come in different colors, and some are denser than others. If you go into a sporting goods store, you may find them in different lengths, some have little nodules on them, and some even vibrate. But the purpose is all the same: to release soft tissue by yourself. The one I use the most is 24” long, black and does not have any nodules on it. It’s basic, but really can do the job. Trust me.
What do I do with it?
I’m not going to lie – the first time you start rolling around on this thing you feel a little goofy. Especially if you don’t feel like it’s doing anything to your muscles. Then you hit that spot – the one that makes you want to yell out some creative curse words.
When you find that spot, you want to roll slowly back and forth over it. You can also just stay still, breathing and relaxing your body till the pain eases slightly. The goal is to loosen those areas up, so you have to find them.
There are so many ways to use the foam roller, and so many areas of your body to use it on. Here are a few of my go to spots:
The spine – I lay on the foam roller with the roller perpendicular to my back, forming a T with my spine. I lift my hips and roll up and down my back using my legs to push myself back and forth. Sometimes I feel some popping, and that’s okay. My body is loosening up and things are moving back in place. I also like to arch over it with the roller across my shoulder blades. It helps to open my body up after sitting at the computer.
IT Band – the IT band, or iliotibial tract, runs along the outside of your thigh. This area is tight on many people, so proceed with caution. Place the roller perpendicular to your thigh and slowly roll yourself along the outside of your leg from just below your hip to right above your knee. If you find a particularly sensitive spot, stay there a few seconds before moving on.
Adductors – The adductors run along your inner thigh. Refer to the picture to get a clear visual on how you use the foam roller for this one. For this one I start with the roller near the top of my leg, near the hip. I slowly move down towards my knee, stopping at each area that is sensitive and staying there for about 10 seconds. Don’t hold your breath, and try to relax as you go.
My husband introduced me to the lacrosse ball for some deeper release. Its smaller size can really get in the muscles. I use it a lot along my shoulder blades and the bottoms of my feet. Wow, does that feel good!
The Stick is also a great tool for soft tissue release, and like the lacrosse ball, it travels easily. You can use it on yourself for your lower body, but would need a friend to help you roll your back or arms. I really like it for the IT band, adductors, calves and front of my lower legs.
How Often Should I Do This?
I try to perform soft tissue release two or three times a week as part of my stretching routine. I spread it out because your muscles can feel bruised from it, so a few days between is okay. Start slow, but keep consistent. You will notice a difference in how you feel and how your body moves!