Foam rolling for runners is supported by research and Runners World, but are we doing it correctly?

Foam rolling for runners is supported by research and Runners World, but are we doing it correctly?

Runners World recently published an article in the best way to perform foam rolling for runners.

Research has been showing foam rolling is effective prior to a run and improves performance as well as recovery from a run.

From a chiropractic point of view, foam rolling which is essentially self-myofascial release is effective because tight fascia reduces flexibility, affects movement firing patterns, and can either enhance or adversely affect how you run.   On the other hand, so can body mechanics, running habits, the type of shoes you wear, and even a minimalist approach.

Running is about movement.  The more efficiently you move, the faster you can potentially go.

In the Runners World article, they mention the idea of runners stopping in the middle of their runs to do more foam rolling to maintain their flexibility.  Some runners report that foam rolling after a run also reduces tightness and soreness the following day although, stretching mildly may be a better approach after the run.

What they fail to question is why we tighten up when we run.   If the problems of tight fascia are related to our body mechanics, our habits during our runs, and also ground impact, perhaps, all this foam rolling may be a symptom based approach to a problem that has never been solved for that particular runner, which results in tight and dysfunctional fascial tissue affecting their running gait.

Is all that foam rolling necessary?

Many runners self treat what feels restricted to them.  In my 35 years of experience as a chiropractor, most people read their bodies improperly.   What feels tight is often straining rather than being tight and most people are not able to properly assess themselves.  What is tight usually is not felt by the person unless they stretch and then they may sense a restriction in the absence of pain or a feeling of tightness.  Also, if you are working on the side that feels tight, if you have to keep rolling over and over to feel good, it is most likely you are on the wrong side which seems to be counter-intuitive.

Our approach to foam rolling has always been to stop guessing and just treat both sides symmetrically rather than trying to guess.  Most people get a better result using this approach.  You can watch our videos on how to foam roll here.

Since the fascia that affects how we move surrounds all the muscles are superficial, foam roll superficially and avoid digging into the sore tissues as this is more likely to cause more problems.   If there is a deep soft tissue adhesion due to a healing muscular pull or tear, have this done by a chiropractor who performs myofascial release or another healthcare professional a few weeks after the problem developed.

What is the best protocol for runners?

We recommend the following:

  • Foam roll generally, making sure you work the gluts and the calves (although doing the calves by hand may actually be easier and more effective).
  • Gently stretch after a run.
  • If your running requires constant foam rolling or self-work, see a chiropractor who specializes in runners to evaluate why it is happening, to make running more injury-free and more satisfying experience.

If you are experiencing running problems, Charschan Chiropractic and Sports Injury specializes in the treatment of runners using a holistic hands-on approach to diagnosing and treating running problems.   Our unique protocols for treadmill diagnosis can often help properly diagnose the reason behind your running problems.  Dr. Charschan is the former medical director for USA Track and Field NJ and has over 28 years of experience working with runners. You can make an appointment using this link.