Should you be using a Foam Roller?

Whenever I see runners in my office a common question I hear is, “Should I use a foam roller?” The foam roller has become a popular tool for runners because it has been considered one of the only treatment options for iliotibial (IT) band syndrome.

I want to offer a word of caution about using a foam roller for this common condition. The anatomy of this area is unique and should be taken into consideration when deciding to use this mode of treatment.

When Not To Use It

The IT band overlays a majority of the most lateral quadriceps muscle called vastus lateralis. As I’ve said before, your body will form fibrous adhesions between soft tissue during times of trauma or physical stress. So, if you are repeatedly using a foam roller on your IT band, you may be adding to the problem. Lying on a foam roller, on your side in order to treat your IT band, compresses it into your quadriceps muscle.

This repetitive compression could be forming adhesions between the IT band and the quadriceps, which will inhibit the IT band from lengthening and limit its ability to glide smoothly over the underlying muscle. If this happens, the IT band will continue to be tight and continue to be problematic.

Using a foam roller on the IT band can initially break down old scar tissue and provide temporary relief. However, the repetitive compressive trauma from the foam roller can cause new adhesions to form. If you are someone who continually uses a foam roller only to find temporary relief, this may be your issue.

When To Use It

I believe that foam rollers can be beneficial in other areas of the body (e.g., calves, hamstrings and quadriceps) to aid in deeper stretching of these muscles. Be careful because damage can still be done in these areas as well.

I encourage you to think twice about using it on your IT band issues due to the anatomical uniqueness of the outer thigh. While it may feel good in the moment, it may be doing more damage than treatment.

Question: Have you used a foam roller to treat aches and pains? What was your experience like?

Dr. Crabtree

Dr. Crabtree is a chiropractor in South Minneapolis at the Uptown Natural Care Center. He specializes in the treatment of soft tissue injuries and is certified in Graston Technique®, Active Release Technique® and Rocktape®. He uses these techniques to aid in the correction of soft tissue dysfunction that accompanies overuse injuries that are particularly common in endurance athletes.

*Selected as a "Minnesota Top Chiropractor" for 2015 by Minnesota Monthly

Contact Dr. TY
Uptown Natural Care Center
2201 Hennepin Ave S
Minneapolis MN 55405
612.377.7760 | dr.tycrabtree@gmail.com