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How Foam Rolling Saved My Lower Back

As a trainer, one of the first things I do with a new client is a full body assessment. We go over aches and pains, medications, medical history — the works. I’m not shocked to find that most new clients have been living with some form of back, neck, hip or shoulder pain for years. They just consider it normal; and I’m here to tell you, it’s not normal.

Prior to becoming a trainer (and even a few months into my training career), I suffered from low back pain. I didn’t have a lot of money to keep paying a chiropractor or a masseuse at the time. And neither option seemed to eliminate my back pain long term anyways.

So I started researching causes of low back pain and doing all of the stretches. I found some relief, but that would be short-lived as soon as my next run or training session ended. Even though I would warm up and properly cool down, the pain would return. It was so severe at times that I couldn’t brush my teeth without leaning on the counter. I’m sure many of you can relate. 

I remembered a video from my training certification class talking about myofascial release, and how foam rolling could move the fascia beneath the skin. Fascia is a thin membrane that encapsulates our muscle tissue. Over time we can develop scar tissue or adhesions that prevent the muscles from gliding over one another. Tight fascia therefore makes certain movements difficult and even painful.

Armed with my new resolve, I decided to check out some YouTube videos on proper ways to foam roll. Low back pain was the first one I researched. I knew that tight hip flexors were a large contributor to low back pain, but I was skeptical. My pain was unbearable. No way was this just cause by tight muscles. It had to be degenerative disc disease — compressed discs so severe that they’ve died from lack of blood flow. Even though X-rays from the chiro didn’t show that, I was convinced that was it.  

Thanks to foam rolling, my lower back never “goes out” anymore — ever

I laid my hip flexor onto the roller and let my bodyweight press into it. The pain so sharp and intense, yet oddly felt really good. So I continued. I would stay on the “tender” spots as long as I could. Shaking and sweating, then gently roll up or down the muscle. When I’d finally had enough, I switched sides. Then I moved to my glutes and claves. Repeating the same satisfyingly painful process on each muscle. I rolled up my back to my shoulder blades and even onto my lats. After about 20-30 minutes of rolling around on the floor of my gym and making ridiculous noises. I stood up and was amazed at how I felt. Still some residual pain but I was able to touch my toes.  

Could the cure be this easy?  I was still a skeptic but I continued my routine and added some decompression exercises as well. After about a week, I wasn’t in pain when I woke up. I could brush my teeth standing up and I didn’t feel like my hips and back were about to snap after lifting or running. 

Over time, I used that roller a million times in hundreds of different ways. My back never “goes out” anymore. The first sign of a muscle spasm or nerve pain, I spend 10 minutes on my foam roller and I’m back to feeling good. 

You can imagine how passionately I recommend this to my clients these days. The skeptic became a believer…and then a disciple. As I mentioned before, I have a lot of clients that suffered like I did. It’s pretty satisfying watching them go through the exercises and seeing their posture change. Most of the time they are as amazed as I felt when years of pain is rolled away almost instantly. 

How can a $20 hard styrofoam roller be the remedy for such an intense problem? I’m not saying that myofascial release is the cure for all back and hip pain. You can discuss that with a functional muscle therapist if you’d like. However, before you go dropping a ton of money on massages and chiropractic appointments for your pain, I’d at least give foam rolling a try. You might become a holy foam roller as well. 

What do you think?

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