You can use a foam roller to increase circulation, stretch muscles, and prevent injuries.

Ease Aches with a Foam Roller

You may have seen foam rollers in fitness centers and stores and wondered what they were used for. Originally developed for rehabilitation, foam rollers are a useful tool for healing back, shoulder and hip pain. But they are good for much more than that. In fact, many coaches, physical therapists, and sports experts believe a foam roller should be part of everyone’s fitness equipment.

You can use a foam roller to boost blood flow, prepping your body for a workout and making it easier to recover afterwards. This is why runners and other athletes use foam rollers rollers as part of their warmup and cooldown routines. Research shows foam rolling can be more effective than static stretching to decrease muscle tightness. And foam rolling can break down those tight knots, loosening muscles and increasing joint range of motion.

Using a foam roller also helps you avoid common problems and injuries associated with tightness and overuse. Athletes use foam rollers to stave off the delayed muscle soreness that sometimes occurs 24 to 48 hours after exercise or activity.

To experience the benefits of foam rolling, try these routines, moving slowly and stopping and holding on tender spots.

Calves: Put the roller under one calf. Rest your other foot on the floor. Roll from the ankle to below the knee, rotating your leg in, then out. Trade legs.

Hamstrings: Place the roller under your thighs. Lift your hips and slowly roll from the knees to the buttocks. To increase the pressure, roll one leg at time, turning your leg in and out.

Glutes: Sit with the foam roller resting underneath both your glutes. Bring your right leg up and rest your right ankle above your left knee. Roll along the side of your right hip, moving slowly and steadily. Repeat 10 to 12 times, then switch to the other side.

IT Band: Start by lying on your side with the foam roller underneath the upper thigh. With the assistance of your legs and arms, roll the length of your IT band along the foam roller from the outside, upper portion of your thigh to just above your knee.  Do 10-12 passes.  Repeat on the other side.

Upper Back: Place the foam roller behind your mid back (below your rib cage), perpendicular to your spine. With your hands behind your head, lean back on the roller, arching over it slightly, then return your back to a straight position. Do this several times, moving the roller a few inches up your back each time. Your last stretch should occur when the roller is above your shoulder blades.

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.