using foam roller for deep tissue massage

A good deep tissue massage, combined with regular home use of the foam roller, is a proven combination that will keep you in optimum condition.

Receiving deep tissue massage gives you a wide variety of benefits:

From improving the pain in your feet – plantar fasciitis –  to helping your neck whiplash pain and everything in between. Along with relieving pain and restoring proper muscle function, a deep tissue massage can also help with critical issues like stress and anxiety relief, lowering blood pressure, insomnia, breaking up scar tissue, and much more.

The list of benefits from Human Touch and Intelligence is LONG! 

One of the most important benefits of receiving a massage is the Human Factor. While the therapist soothes and lengthens tight tissue, they can feel and assess your problem areas in ways your inanimate roller cannot. And then, the therapist can share their findings and offer suggestions and helpful tips on how to correct what is bothering you.

The two main benefits you can get from a foam roller are crucial for the active person – compression and lengthening of the muscles. Along with regular massage, the roller is indispensable to help keep the muscles lengthened that are shortening – whether you are sitting at a desk, running, or cycling.

The roller is a great tool to complement deep tissue massage.

Many people like them so much that they pack a shorter version in their suitcase when traveling. The roller is a valuable tool, but it still does not come close to the importance and overall benefits you will receive from a top-notch deep tissue massage therapist.

As a fellow athlete says about the roller, “They mash and move, but deep tissue massage specifically gets in the grove.”

What is a FOAM roller? Where do I find one?

Foam can mean many things. In the case of the Foam Roller, it is usually a 6” X 18” cylinder of polyethylene foam or ethylene-vinyl acetate foam, similar to compacted ™Styrofoam.

Rollers come in many variations from soft or firm ones. For a bit more money, you can get rollers with a variety of textures and ridges.

A good place to start looking for a roller is on the New York Times Wirecutter website, where they independently test and review everything they recommend. And, they will warn you that the firmer and denser the roller, the slower you must ease into using it.

Deep tissue massage can target areas in ways the roller can not.

Deep tissue massage can help you feel better in a huge variety of places, many of them beyond the reach and scope of the roller. The roller is big and broad and cannot target specific spots, like neck pain, foot pain, frozen shoulder, or sciatic pain.

Likewise, the roller can work the upper leg muscles, but not all the way up into their attachments in the hip. Similarly, the roller cannot address the deeper muscles of the low back, the pelvis, or the psoas – all very important muscles for how your low back and hips feel.

For more information on deep tissue massage benefits, check out our Deep Tissue Massage blog; it may give you some more ideas on how to combine deep tissue with the foam roller. You may also find our Sports Massage blog to be helpful.

Five ways to combine deep tissue massage and foam rolling

foam roller massage knee east bridge massage portland

First, the most popular – the IT Band, a common source of knee, hip, and low back pain

A very common complaint we hear about as massage therapists is knee pain that is coming from unusually tight IT bands and quad muscles. This kind of knee problem can see a huge benefit from deep tissue massage and the roller.

Many times our patients come in and tell us they have Runner’s Knee or Patellofemoral Syndrome, a common, non-specific pain in the knee cap area.

Deep tissue massage can help this in a variety of ways – by softening and lengthening the tight muscles while also assessing and educating the client about the fact that these areas of the leg are very tight. Light bulb! This could be one of the causes of their pain, and it often is.

We can work on these areas, PLUS all the surrounding areas that the roller just cannot reach. The surrounding muscles and tissue are just as important as they play a supportive and assisting role.

For homework, we can explain how to use the foam roller – to begin slowly and then how to proceed. We also can monitor your progress during your regular massages.

Second, the Quads – a close friend of the IT band, which causes similar problems

Quite often, patients come in with pain in the bony part of the low back, AKA the Sacroiliac Joint. Massage therapists know that this pain is probably due to tight quads and hip flexors, among other things. The quads can also be causing some knee pain, as we discussed above.

This is a perfect example of how important massage therapy is in addition to the roller. We can see, feel, and assess.  We can work on the tight areas, get into the spots the roller will not reach, and offer ideas on how to correct the problem!

Because the SI Joint pain is partially caused by the tight quads, we will often, when appropriate, suggest the use of the foam roller to keep the lengthening process continuing while you are in between massages.

Third, the Adductors – the important inner thigh muscles.

The adductor muscle group of the inner thigh is a large, important muscle group that also has a direct effect on how your hips, hip joints, and low back area feel. Any large muscle group that is attached to your pelvic bones and is shortened will be pulling your pelvis out of alignment, which usually causes pain.

The deep tissue massage therapist can work the large muscles but can also get very specific around the origins in the pelvis and the insertions in the knee. Again, this will help with hip problems and also knee problems.

It is not difficult to roll the adductors, all you have to do is bend your knee and stick your bent leg out to the side, and roll on a diagonal. This is one area where a small diameter roller, smaller than 6 inches, will not work. It is just too low for most people’s inner thigh muscles to reach.

Fourth, the hamstring muscles on the back of the thighs.

Sometimes during a massage, your therapist will notice that your hamstrings, especially the outermost hamstrings, are unusually tight. As skilled, experienced therapists, we know right away this can be the source of some of the knee or hip pain you were complaining about.

The benefit of coming in for a massage is that we can share that assessment with you.  You will receive the benefit of the massage, especially the origins and attachments that the roller cannot reach. And we can offer you at-home foam rolling ideas to further help these muscles.

Fifth, tight calves – a popular source of knee pain.

Our patients at East Bridge Massage are always amazed when their knee pain disappears with some focused massage, foam rolling, and stretching of the calf muscles. Because the main calf muscle, the gastrocnemius, attaches to the upper leg bone, the femur, it pulls the knee joint together when it is tight.

Since the gastroc is such a fundamental muscle group for walking, running, and posture, any problem with it being too tight and shortened, will be felt almost constantly.

This muscle is complex and requires a skillful massage therapist to work all its aspects – origins, attachments at the heel, and all the supportive muscles around it.

The roller can do a great job on the main bulk of the muscle, and your therapist may recommend that, but the finer muscles along the sides really need the hands of a good massage therapist.

These Five Muscle Groups are only the beginning!

The areas we have mentioned are just the most popular areas for combining massage and the foam roller. There are other areas, like the middle/upper back, glutes, latissimus dorsi or Lats, upper arms, and more.

East Bridge Massage is looking forward to being a part of your health and wellness team!

Pick up your phone or send us an email, and we can get you started with our deep tissue experts. We have a wealth of massage techniques that can be used to complement the deep tissue – from Myofascial Release to Ashiatsu to trigger point to cupping therapy.

Our Best Of Awards from the Willamette Week newspaper is a hint that when people need a dependable, consistent deep tissue massage, they call East Bridge Massage!

See you SOON!

Writing by P.D. Black, LMT, Freelance Writer