Is Foam Rolling the same as Stretching

The question that often comes up when dealing with recover, is foam rolling the same as stretching? The simple answer is no, they are not the same.  They do not offer the same benefits, even though they are both used for recovery. The best answer is to stretch and to foam roll but if you have to choose between stretching and foam rolling, you should choose foam rolling.

Foam rolling is going to have more benefits than stretching but stretching is not bad. And ideally you do both. The main focus of foam rolling is to get out the knots that develop in your muscles. Knots are common and everyone forms them. Whether you work out or sit for long periods of time you develop knots in your muscles. Foam rolling will eliminate those knots.

If you picture a knot in your muscle like a knot tied in a string. If you are to pull on the ends of the string, the knot will not come out. What happens when you wind up stretching is you pull at the knot and wind up tearing the muscle but never really getting the knot out. This is what stretching does. You just pull at the knot and wind up tearing the muscle to try to increase the length.   That is why people can hear a pop, or it can be painful when you stretch too far. If you have pain with stretching, you are stretching too far, too much and too hard and can and will cause yourself injury.

That is where foam rolling comes in. The idea behind foam rolling is it breaks up the knots. If you do it correctly and often enough it is actually going to get into the knot and break it up. While foam rolling can be painful when you roll over the knots, eventually as the knots break up the pain will become less. After you eliminate the knots you will be able to stretch and get the length of the muscle back to normal.

Also, when you stretch a muscle, in order for you to stretch it effectively you need to hold the stretch for 30 seconds and do 6 repetitions. This has been proven to be the time you should hold it to get the most effective stretch. This is very time consuming when you have to do this for each muscle group. Whereas with foam rolling you can roll for a few seconds on each muscle group and get the same effectiveness. You do not have to do it for a specific amount of time. You want to do it for 10 minutes a day, but you can do that in 1-minute sets throughout the day and get the results that you want.

While you can do foam rolling for just a few seconds to get results, in reality you will not get the knots out in them muscle in just one or two sessions. You do not want to sit there and try to get a knot out for 10 minutes. You can become very sore and it will not happen until later. If you find a knot, then you can stay on it for a few seconds and then move on. Eventually the knot will loosen up and disappear. I like to picture knots like onions. Each time you roll you take off a layer. Then you do activities, work, workout, sit for too long, drive and you put layers back on. Not as many layers that were there previously but some layers.  Then when you foam roll you take off some layers until eventually all the layers are gone.

Many people abandon foam rolling because it hurts too much. If it hurts you should do it more because that means, there are knots in the muscle. There are problems that are going to happen if you do not roll and you do not get the knots out. So, while it may hurt, eventually it will not. That is why it is recommended to have two foam rollers, one flat and one with spikes. The flat roller is for days that you cannot tolerate the spike foam roller. When you can roll the muscle on the spike foam roller. But if you cannot tolerate it then you should roll on the flat foam roller, but you should not stop rolling or skip rolling because it hurts or it is too painful.

The other benefit of foam rolling versus stretching is the fact that you can foam roll at any time, before you run, at the end of the day, no warm up is needed. When you stretch you want to have some blood flowing to the muscle, so you do not want to stretch when you are ‘cold’ or not properly warmed up. Foam rolling you can hop out of bed and do without any warm up.  The convenience and ease of foam rolling is that you can do it whenever you want and for as much or as little as you want.  You just have to do it.

To see how to foam roll you can look on our You Tube channel, which has many videos on all different types of health topics.

If you live in Montgomery or Bucks County PA and have pain and want a FREE consultation with a Doctor of Physical Therapy, call 215-997-9898 today!


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