As dancers, you may have seen your instructors or some senior dancers sit at the back of the class with a large, cylindrical device which looks like a wooden log except that it's not made out of wood but foam, and wondered what it was or why they were lying on top of it or rolling it under their thigh.
That device is called a foam roller.
What is a foam roller?
Foam rollers are exercise devices used for soothing tight muscles and sore areas of the body and they also speed up muscle recovery. They are usually long and cylindrical but also come in other shapes, sizes and various textures.
Foam rolling is part of a bigger category known as Self-Myofascial Release (SMR), or self-massage. The process of rolling out tight muscles and relieving tension is called myofascial release.
How is it useful for dancers?
SMR technique is used by athletes and dancers to roll out muscle tightness and to relieve knots in the connective tissue, which cover the muscle and bones and support the body’s major structures.
Dancers engage in continuous and repetitive movements, which can lead to tightening up of the body’s muscles and produce kinks in the tissue.
Dancers tend to have over-worked muscles due to the extremely repetitive nature of the technique and long and exhausting rehearsal schedules. These overworked muscles and fascia become tight because the nerves that connect them to the brain begin to fire overtime and create tension. The connective tissue of the muscles then knots up, pulls on the tendon, which in turn pulls a little extra hard on bones which results in muscle imbalance and makes a dancer at a greater risk of injury.
However, continued practice of SMR allows muscles to work at their best and therefore prevents injury.
SMR also increases the blood flow in the area that the foam roller is being rolled which eases the muscles and therefore can form an integral part of a dancer's warm up.
Foam rollers must be used with extreme care and caution. Rolling out too vigorously or for too long can end up damaging the tissue.
Foam rollers come in varying densities so one must avoid using a hard roller if one is injured or if it hurts too much and rely on a softer one instead.
Rolling on an injured area can also sometimes make the injury worse since it's a tool for mobilization and tissues sometimes need to be immobilized to heal. Therefore, one must allow some specific injuries to heal to some extent before returning to their foam roller.
Foam rollers can also be used as preventive tools to avoid injuries due to muscle soreness so, dancers can incorporate them into their warm up before class or use them after class to relax the tense muscles and nerves.
One must not roll over the bones and avoid rolling over the ankles, behind the knees, in front of the hip joints or along the sides of the lower back as that could damage or irritate the nerves and cause pain.
Hence, due to the multiple uses and advantages of foam rollers, they are an indispensable and fundamentally functional tool for dancers and athletes and a must for every dancer's bag but they must be used cautiously to avoid causing unnecessary pain.