Foam rollers work on fascial movement and mobility. Fascia encompasses the different layers and tissues beneath our skin and within our bodies. The layers should all move against and past each other relatively freely, and have a good blood flow within and between layers with minimal restriction. If you have had an injury or persistent problem within a limb, the movement of these fascial layers can be restricted and the blood flow may not be as free. Loosening these layers using a foam roller by physically moving and kneading the tissues can improve this.
With foam rolling, the benefits are sometimes slow to show. But after a few days, you may find you’re a little looser when you get up in the morning, or that you find it a little easier getting up the stairs, or that you’re little lighter on your feet during a run. When you start to see the effects, you’ll realise that foam rolling is worth the persistence.
After a knee injury the fascial layers within the thigh and calf can commonly become restricted. This has effects on knee joint movements as well as muscle activity. It can also affect normal movement.
Here are the foam roller stretches you can use on a regular basis to maximise your lower limb flexibility:
1. Quadriceps and Front of Thigh
Lying on your front, rest most of your body weight on the roller at the top of your thigh by your groin. Keep your hands on the floor and balance your body weight between the roller and your hands. Lift your feet off the floor and roll up and down, moving the roller up and down your thigh slowly. There is no hard and fast rule on how long you should do this for, but a good general idea is to do enough to feel the discomfort improve a little or until the tissues become a bit more flexible. Perform the movement slowly and steadily.
2. Hamstrings and Back of Thigh
Sitting on the floor with your legs out straight in front of you and your hands on the floor behind you, put the roller under your thigh. Now lean half of your body weight on the roller and half of your body weight on your hands. Then roll up and down the back of your thigh moving your body weight over the roller. This may be uncomfortable or painful to perform at first but each time you practice it should get easier to do. There is no benefit to rolling quickly so start steadily and move up and down at a steady pace to allow tissue and fluid movement.
3. Calf Muscles
Sitting on the floor with your legs out straight in front of you and your hands on the floor behind you as in the exercise above, move the roller down underneath the calf muscles and repeat the same technique, rolling up and down the entire calf smoothly. Try moving your body weight more towards the outer or inner calf to bias the two different sides of the muscle. It is also good to try to pull up your toes towards you to increase the amount of stretch on the muscles as you roller.
4. Iliotibial band (ITB) and Outer Thigh
This is truly an uncomfortable technique! However, it’s well worth trying if you have been told by your physio or trainer that your outer thigh is tight and may be contributing to your knee pain. Lying on your side on the floor with your elbow holding your weight (similar position to holding a side plank), put the roller under your upper thigh near the top (not under the bony part of your hip but just below this,) and move your body weight up and down the roller towards the knee but not onto the knee. This is hard to maintain and you might have to put your top foot on to the floor to hold a little of your body weight rather than have all of it on the roller. Practice this in short bursts, gradually increasing the time you can roll for. The added benefit to this is greater strength in your core muscles!
5. Peroneals and Outer Calf
On your side, place the roller under your outer calf near the knee. Roll up and down from your knee to just above your ankle. Try rotating your body slightly forwards or backwards to feel a better pressure on your muscles and to make sure you release it all out.
Rollers come in all shapes and sizes but make sure you choose something firm, as it does need to be able to withstand body weight. You can purchase a foam roller from our online shop here and if you are unsure which stretches to choose and would like some one to one advice, get in touch to arrange an initial appointment.