A foam roller can be your friend in stretching and preventing back pain.

Why Use a Foam Roller? Stretch, Strengthen, and Ease Back Pain

If your home workout equipment doesn’t include a foam roller, it might be time to get one. These simple, lightweight tools, which look like stubby pool noodles, are growing in popularity for their many uses. Foam rollers were initially used by physical therapists to roll out tension in tight muscles. But over time these light, compact and portable devices have been found to have many more uses as well. Here are four ways you can use a foam roller to enhance your fitness and ease pain.

Treat Sore Muscles

Think of a foam roller as a mini-masseuse. Once primarily a physical therapy tool, foam rollers are a great way to roll tension out of tight muscles or put pressure on sore spots. In fact, research shows that using a foam roller after exercise can relieve soreness and prevent delayed-onset muscle fatigue. Athletes, particularly runners, find that using a foam roller on sore muscles after a run or other exercise aids recovery so they don’t have to lose time between workouts.

Build Core Strength

You can use the cylindrical shape of the foam roller in different ways to enhance the fitness benefits of exercises such as planks and push-ups. By holding the roller in your hands and thus creating an unstable surface, the roller forces you to use your core for stability, which builds ab and core strength. And many fitness classes use foam rollers in various ways to increase the difficulty of leg lifts, sit ups, and other fitness class staples.

Increase Flexibility

Many athletes report that foam rollers help release tension in their muscles and help increase range of motion (ROM) when used before stretching. Stand it on its end, and a foam roller becomes a crutch to steady you during standing stretches. Here are 5 foam-roller moves you can use to increase lower body flexibility.

Compensate for Sitting

Sitting all day causes your muscles to tighten and, over time, to shorten. Used regularly, a foam roller can help ease this tightness by increasing muscle length and massaging the fascia, the connective tissue that surrounds muscles, nerves and blood vessels. Massaging the fascia, often called myofascial release, not only relieves pain but over time it may help these long muscles function better.

Melanie Haiken writes about health, wellness and fitness for national magazines and websites. She specializes in discovering and reporting the latest research on diet, nutrition, fitness, weight loss and other health-related topics. Her award-winning stories have appeared in Fitness, Shape, Health, Forbes, and other respected magazines. She also contributes health stories to numerous Kaiser Permanente newsletters and other publications.