Not too long ago I was working with the U.S. Men’s National Beach Soccer team in their Beach World Cup qualifier tournament. On a daily basis, half of the team would use the foam roller in the training room.
(Side note: I’m a former professional soccer player, both in the United States and England, and I can tell you this: beach soccer is a totally different style of play than my traditional “football”.)
These seasoned players were not weak and did not have a muscle imbalance, but the demands of playing soccer on the sand put excessive stress on the core stabilizers and in particular the hips. The foam roller was, for them, a critical tool in their war chest to play their sport and stay healthy between matches. They are seasoned athletes but diligence with the foam roller kept them loose and stretched out.
Performing just about any athletic or recreational activity requires activation of the core muscles: not just abs but pelvic floor muscles, obliques, rectus abdominous, transverse abdominous multifidus, sacrospinal muscles, diaphragm and more…! These core muscles help to maintain stability and balance. Any type of imbalance, weakness or increased load (demand) can result in one or more of these muscles becoming strained. The goal is not only to maintain the strength of these muscles but also, when necessary, the flexibility.
When we use the foam roller, we are able to massage the muscles of the lower extremity. Most commonly we find that runners develop tightness and pain in the IT band. This is due in part to the fact that at every point during the impact phase of running the hip (and lower extremity) is stabilizing the whole body. This increased load and stress make the stabilizers work hard and can expose some hip weakness of inflexibility. The foam roller historically was used for the IT band, but more and more people are seeing the value in massaging out the hamstrings, quadriceps and calf muscles as the pressure helps to stimulate blood flow, massage out knots and loosen tight muscles.
Andy Hylton is a P.A. (Physician Assistant) at OrthoCarolina and also has a degree in Athletic Training. He has played professional soccer in the U.S. and England, and also played for Great Britain’s soccer team at the World University Games (Olympics for students) in Beijing, China. Andy treats all ages and orthopedic needs, particularly sports medicine injuries and conditions.