Foam Rolling Tips From a Massage Therapist

Foam rolling, it’s simple, effective, doesn’t cost much, and offers many benefits to your well-being. This post will focus on foam rolling techniques from your friendly neighborhood licensed massage therapist – me. I’ll share the foam roller that has stolen my foam rolling heart *smiles*. Visit this blog post to learn about the variety of foam rollers available. If you’re new to foam rolling, I suggest you begin with a low-density model.

Google benefits of foam rolling and you will find a slew of information written from different perspectives. I’ll be concise; Foam rolling is a type of self-massage, therefore, I’ve conjured up the massage therapist in me. It helps with the flow of fluids which in turn helps with everything in the body: delivery of nutrients, lymphatic circulation, flushing of cellular waste, inflammation, tense muscles, and it just feels good – okay maybe not at first. The purpose behind these techniques is to mobilize the fluids upwards, toward the major lymph node sites. I begin with the area closest to them (proximal), to the areas farthest away (distal). This technique mobilizes any stagnant lymph fluid and clears the pathway for the fluid below.

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Foam Rolling Tips & Techniques: A Massage Therapist’s Perspective

If you’re new to foam rolling, you should know that it requires a good amount of core, shoulder strength, and mobility to steer your typical log-shaped foam roller. Something to consider when choosing a foam roller, and there are plenty to choose from. You might want to start with myo-balls, foam rolling stick, or half-sized foam roller, all of these are easier to maneuver. Adjust the techniques as needed to your pace and tolerance.

A word about foam rolling your iliotibial band, known as the ITB; Your ITB does not “loosen up” and should not “loosen up”, its tension keeps us upright while walking. You can, however, affect the ITB by foam rolling the muscles bordering it, the suspects: Vastus-lateralis; Gluteus maximus; Tensor-fasciae latae. Focus on those three if you are having knee/hip/ankle issues.

Lower Body

  • Begin at the top of the thighs.
  • Roll about an 8″ section from the upper hip flexors, upwards toward your hip bone.
  • Roll a few times before stopping on any tense areas.
  • Stay on the tense areas for at least 20 seconds, focus on rhythmic breathing.
  • When the soreness subsides (it will if your breathing is paced), roll the same section a couple of times more while internally & externally rotating your leg.
  • Then move on to the section below (keeping to about 8″), repeating the same steps, stop before you hit the knee (obviously, ouch!).
  • To roll the shins I use a handheld roller (pictured). I keep to the same technique, foam rolling in sections and mobilizing the ankle joint.
  • POSTERIOR LEG: beginning at the top and covering the glutes, working in sections downwards, and utilizing joint action at the hip and ankle.
  • LATERAL LEG: focus on foam rolling diagonally, one section at a time, beginning at the top.
  • I include the feet in the mix, using a tennis ball to roll each foot. Click here to check out one of my older post that addresses foot health.

Upper Body

The foam roller I use does a great job of addressing the shoulder and base of the skull area. You can buy one made specifically for this area but if you’re feeling crafty, make one! You will need 2 balls and a thick sock, duck tape, or both. The duct tape is to bandage them together side-by-side so they resemble a peanut shape. Placing them in a thick sock will offer some cushion for comfort. The balls commonly used are tennis balls, handballs, or baseballs, this is dependent on your tolerance/sensitivity level.

  • I do not foam roll the neck area.
  • I place the roll at the base of my skull and gently nod, shake, and rotate my head to affect the tissue/muscles.
  • I then move to the shoulder area and mobilize my shoulders with gentle rotation.
  • In the Thoracic/Mid-back area, I return to the section-by-section technique I used for the lower body. I gently mobilize the rib cage by alternating caving-in and flaring movements.
  • At the Lower/Lumbar spine area, I gently rock my pelvis forward, back, and side to side. I use my legs to maneuver and moderate pressure.
  • I like to address tense areas in my upper arm area standing, with the sock ball between a wall and my upper arms. I also do this for my upper pecs, using the corner of a wall to make it easy to maneuver my arm.
This page contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. If you purchase a product through one of them, I will receive a commission (at no additional cost to you).

The picture above displays my SMR (self-myofascial release) arsenal. You’ll see the peanut-shaped sock ball, I’ve placed two tennis balls inside or invest in a proper one like this one 5Billion peanut massage ball. The myo-rolling stick is perfect for the shins area. The compact myo-roller, has a channel for the spine to nestle in.

Lastly, stretch immediately afterward to take advantage of the decreased muscle tension. This is favorable after a workout or on recovery days. Foam rolling can also be used as a warm-up to an exercise routine. In this case, keep rolling rhythmic and quick to keep the nervous system prepared for the workout to come.

–Foam-roll in sections, beginning with areas closest to the core (proximal to distal).
–Stop for at least 20 seconds when you encounter a tender spot.
–Keep breathing rhythmic.
–Incorporate joint motions whenever possible.
–Stretch immediately afterward to take advantage of the decreased muscle tension.

Hope these tips will help you next time you foam roll. If you would like to chat about a customized fitness routine or have a specific question about foam rolling, drop your questions in the comments or send me a message at

Thanks for stopping by!

Stand tall Breathe deep,
ACE, NASM Certified Personal Trainer
NYS Licensed Massage Therapist


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