During the Christmas holidays, my parents introduced me to the foam roller, a dense piece of foam three feet long and six inches in diameter that you can use to massage and stretch your muscles. It comes in different sizes and densities and is made by numerous manufacturers, but the one I own is made by SPRI, is white, and costs about $30.
The technical name for what the foam roller accomplishes is myofascial release. According to www.myofascialrelease.com, myofascial release is "a safe and very effective hands-on technique that involves applying gentle sustained pressure into the Myofascial connective tissue restrictions to eliminate pain and restore motion."
What is the source of myofascial pain? The site says, "Fascia plays an important role in the support and function of our bodies, since it surrounds and attaches to all structures. In the normal healthy state, the fascia is relaxed and wavy in configuration. It has the ability to stretch and move without restriction. When one experiences physical trauma, emotional trauma, scarring, or inflammation, however, the fascia loses its pliability. It becomes tight, restricted, and a source of tension to the rest of the body. Trauma, such as a fall, car accident, whiplash, surgery or just habitual poor posture and repetitive stress injuries has cumulative effects on the body. The changes trauma causes in the fascial system influences comfort and function of our body. Fascial restrictions can exert excessive pressure causing all kinds of symptoms producing pain, headaches or restriction of motion. Fascial restrictions affect our flexibility and stability, and are a determining factor in our ability to withstand stress and perform daily activities."
Basically, all of this means that if you are experiencing pain, myofascial release may help alleviate it or even eliminate it altogether. To use the foam roller, you basically pick a muscle/body part, figure out how to put the foam roller underneath it so that your body weight is placing pressure on the targeted muscle, then start rolling from whatever part of the muscle is closest to the center of your body and slowly work outward.
The foam roller can be awkward to use at first and, depending on what body part you are working on, can require some upper body strength to operate correctly. But I got the hang of it after a few uses and I suspect that most other people could, too. A nice side effect of using it is that because you often have to hold yourself up to use it properly, your upper body strength may increase.
If you are reluctant to get a massage because you can't afford it or are afraid to gamble a bunch of money on something that may or may not help you, the foam roller is a great alternative. It only costs about $30 and you can use it over and over again, as opposed to a $70 massage that you have to pay for over and over again each time your pain comes back.
For me, the foam roller has eliminated tightness and pain in my upper body that I suspect is the result of being on a computer all the time. It has also helped me get rid of muscle tightness in my legs, and I really notice the increase in flexibility when I am exercising. It took only a couple of treatments before I noticed dramatic results. In conjunction with what I've learned from The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook about eliminating myofascial pain, I have been able to effectively treat myself for everyday aches and pains as well as athletic injuries without having to visit a doctor, undergo expensive treatments or have invasive surgeries. The foam roller is a wonderful tool for getting rid of pain, increasing flexibility, and just feeling more comfortable whether you're working out, sitting at your desk at work, or relaxing on the couch.