Relieve Myofascial Pain Syndrome with Foam Rollers
Credit: Opensource

If you have ever been sore from working out in the gym or even after doing yard work, you know that it can last for days.  Not only are you sore, but your range of motion is severely restricted in the affected area. 

When you touch an area that is sore, often times you can feel a knot, especially if it is around your neck or shoulders. If you to try to massage it out it can be painful. The soreness can prevent you from working out for days or simply impede your daily activities such as walking if the pain is in your calves or hamstrings.

So what causes this and why is it so painful?

Your muscles are wrapped in connective tissue that runs throughout the body and protects everything from muscles to nerves, to bones and blood vessels. Ideally the outer layer of your skin which protects your muscles and connective tissue, known as myofascial tissue, work in tandem without any resistance or friction.[1]

However, sometimes all three of the pieces get stuck together and adhere causing these knots under the skin. These knots can be caused by a number of issues such as lack of stretching out muscles after a heavy workout, overuse of muscles or other injuries not associated with the actual area. In fact, you may not even notice the knots, but you will feel the pain that they cause under the skin.

Repeated occurrences can lead to something called myofascial pain syndrome which typically occurs after a muscle has been contracted repetitively usually from a strenuous workout.[1]

Healthy myofascial tissue is soft and relaxed, but when it is exposed to repetitive motions or stress it can become tight and rigid causing the knots which restrict motion and lead to trigger points that can refer pain to other parts of the body.[1]

In fact, chronic pain or stiffness in the back and neck or lack of flexibility may be caused by inflammation in the myofascial tissue.

One way to address the rigid tissue that forms is by applying pressure to the area using a high density foam roller.

What is a High Density foam roller?

Relieve Myofascial Pain Syndrome with Foam RollersCredit: Amazon.comIf you have ever seen one of those long beach noodles that people use to float in the water, then you can imagine a foam roller. It is basically a condensed version of that beach noodle and look like a small cylinder piece of foam.

They typically come is different sizes and thickness. Some have a smooth surface while other are made with various ridges which help massage under the skin at different depths as you roll it along your body.

How do Foam Rollers Ease the Pain?

There is a procedure that massage and physical therapists use called myofascial release. However, this basic procedure can be performed on your own using a foam roller and your own body weight. The secret is to apply sustained pressure along the area that is sore which has the effect internally of softening those adhesions. When muscles are sore, they are tight because they have become shortened by the previous exercise session. These rollers are used to break up typical trigger points and lengthen those muscles within the body simply by applying myofascial release techniques using the foam roller. 

Massage Therapy Benefits Using Foam Rollers

  • Improves blood circulation throughout skin, muscles and connective tissue 
  • Provide deep pressure to lengthen muscles to reduce soreness 
  • Works with a stretching routine to release trigger points 
  • Increase muscle movement and range of motion 
  • Excellent for trigger areas such as hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, upper and lower back 
  • Helps remove lactic acid buildup within the muscles after exercise 
  • Regular use helps prevent future trigger points

How to Use a Foam Roller for Sore Legs

Here are three problem areas for anyone that works out hard on their legs,or for runners after a long race. It is best to perform these following a workout before you stretch everything out.

If any area of your body is particularly sore, keep the roller pressed into that area for 30 seconds before continuing.

Foam Roller Exercises for Legs

Sore Quads – Get in a plank position then place the foam roller under the front of one of your thighs and roll your body weight in the plank position from your knee to the top of your quad muscles.

Shin Splints - Get on all fours and place roller under both of your shins. Now roll your knees towards your hands from just above your ankles to the knee. This not only will relieve soreness but doing this regularly will help prevent future shin splints.

Sore Calves/Hamstrings – If you have ever done calf raises after a long layoff, you know that they can make you incredibly sore for the next few days. Using a foam roller can reduce the calf pain and help prevent it in the future. Sit with both legs stretched outward and place the foam roller underneath one of you calves. Raise your body with your hands behind you on the floor then roll from the knee to the back of your ankle. Then switch to the other calf. This same procedure can be performed for the back of the hamstrings also.


If you have a chronic pain issue, chiropractors and massage therapists trained in myofascial release therapy can help relieve your myofascial pain in many instances. 

For periodic muscle soreness, having a massage session or using a foam roller at home after workouts will aid in the stretching and loosening of the fascia tissue that forms the knots which restrict blood flow to the area.  That in turn takes the pressure off the nerves in the trigger points.

Using a high density foam roller on a regular basis can help you work out some of the tension in problem areas and keep them from recurring in the future. At first, you will experience some discomfort in the affected area as you apply the pressure with your body weight, but stick with it and hold it for 10 - 20 seconds before rolling it out. You will begin to feel a difference within minutes and you will recover much quicker when you roll out the tension.