An PT's Guide to Foam Rolling the Tension Away After Sitting All Day
Jul 17, 2020
This content is brought to you in partnership with OrthoCarolina, one of the nation's leading orthopedic practices with offices across the Southeast.
At the end of a long day of work, you probably feel a lot of things.
Exhausted after grinding all day.
A little hungry for dinner.
And, if you happen to work a desk job (or now that we're working from home during the pandemic, a "from the couch or counter or wherever I have space for my laptop" job), you may also feel muscle stiffness or tightness after staring at a screen all day.
If you're looking for ways to relieve tension after sitting all day, we have good news — we spoke with Maria "Zen" Abanilla, a physical therapist at OrthoCarolina, to learn more about how you can use a foam roller to relax those tense muscles of yours after a long day's work.
Why should you use a foam roller?
If you don't already own a foam roller, you may be thinking "UGH something else I have to buy for my wellness routine?" But Zen thinks it's a worthwhile investment, long term.
"Humans spend at least 6 hours a day mostly in seated position, which leads to the same muscles being in a shortened position for prolonged periods," she explained. "Your chest muscles, hip flexors, hamstrings, calves... And your poor neck and back muscles!"
After hours of maintaining a seated position that shortens all your muscles, you're definitely going to need a release. And that's where the foam roller comes in, Zen said.
"The foam roller uses bodyweight to mobilize your fascia and your intervertebral joints to keep your muscles supple," she explained. "If you have a physical job and always on the move, the foam roller helps your muscles recover faster and reduce your soreness. And if you're sitting all day, it is a great tool to roll out and massage those tired, tight and aching muscles as long as mobilize your spine."
How do you choose the right foam roller?
There are so many foam rollers on the market, it can be tough to know where to start, but Zen has a few recommendations to help you find the right option for you.
"Make sure to choose the right density — if it is too hard, it can hurt more than feel good," she cautioned. "I like one that is 3 feet long, medium density foam."
Okay, so you've got the foam roller — now, how do you actually use it?
A good rule of thumb is to spend 30-60 seconds using your foam roller on each muscle group or segment of your body.
"Start off sitting on the foam roller on the floor, then slowly roll down until your are lying on your spine," Zen suggested. "Work your way up to your neck, and focus some time on really tight or stiff segments."
She added that spontaneous popping here is not uncommon, so don't be alarmed if you hear any! And know that you can lean one way or the other if you want to focus on each side of the back.
"You can also start in that same seated position, then do your gluteal region or your buttocks then progress to your hamstrings and calves," Zen said. "Sitting all day makes them tight!"
As we use the computer and phone all day, our chests also tighten up — meaning they can benefit from a little foam roller love, too.
"Lie down on the length of the roller with your head on it, bend your knees, and plant your feet on the floor," Zen instructed. "Then gently move your arms like you're making a snow angel to open up your chest."
She added that if you are comfortable laying your legs on the foam roller with your forearms on the floor, you can also work your quadriceps. Simply position yourself in a plank, insert your foam roller under your hip points, then roll back and forth from your hip points to above the knee.
"Let your body be your guide. Slight discomfort or pull is acceptable. Pain is not," Zen said. "It may seem difficult and awkward as first, but the learning curve is quick! Spend a few minutes on it daily and you'll get the hang of it — and you won't want to stop."
Learn more about making healthy choices from the experts at OrthoCarolina
Whether you've recently experienced an injury, need help with recovery after tough workouts, or are simply experiencing chronic pain and need help managing it, OrthoCarolina can help. Make an appointment at a location near you to start getting the treatment you need.