As our bodies change with age, our muscles lose elasticity and our joints and connective tissue are prone to tension and cramping which can be painful. However, chronic pain should not be the norm. An inexpensive and easy, at-home treatment for persistent pain in older adults is foam rolling.
What is Foam Rolling?
Foam rolling is a self-massaging technique using a foam roller or ball. It is also known as self-myofascial relief.
By using your body weight and rolling various points on your body with a specially designed foam roller or ball, you can loosen muscle knots and relieve pressure on nearby joints. It’s important as we age to stay focused on keeping our muscles healthy, elastic and mobile. When your muscles are knotted and achy, it affects your ability to function normally.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning found foam rolling to be an effective treatment in reducing stiffness and improving blood circulation in muscles. As it grows in popularity, health and fitness experts are citing additional benefits seniors can gain when practicing foam rolling.
Health Benefits of Foam Rolling as You Age
- Fixes muscle imbalance
- Relieves painful muscle spasm
- Relieves fatigue after exercise
- Promotes normal blood circulation
- Makes joints flexible
- Helps repair muscles
- Boosts muscle recovery
- Re-establishes proper movement patterns
- Decreases chances of injury during any activity
Treat Chronic Pain with Foam Rolling
Treatment for arthritis and other forms of chronic pain in older adults can range from medications and aromatherapy to exercise and massage. While these treatments are very successful and should be maintained at your doctor’s recommendation, it’s also good to have an at-home plan for when pain flares up. Weekly foam rolling is easy to do and can help reduce the amount of more costly treatments.
Before you start treating any form of pain, consult with your doctor, physical therapist or a professional health and wellness trainer. Ask for advice on where and how to foam roll to help relieve pain. For example, people often think they should roll out low back muscles to relieve back pain, while the actual cause of the pain may be coming from tightness in the hips.
Never begin foam rolling for chronic or severe pain without consulting a physician. As an older adult, foam rolling should be done slowly and with light pressure. Foam rollers should never cause severe pain.
Foam Rolling for Myofascial Release in Seniors
Foam rolling in older adults can increase circulation, help rehydrate and bring back flexibility in the fascia and myofascial.
What are fascia and myofascia?
Fascia is the layer of connective tissue under the skin; it has 10 times more pain receptors than muscles. A tight muscle, knot or feeling as if you pulled “something” is often the fascia. The fascia encases everything in the body (muscles, tendons, organs, etc.) and is typically where chronic pain lingers. Myofascia is your muscle.
As we age, our fascial and myofascial makeup loses elasticity, flattens and sticks together vs. gliding across one another. Foam rolling uses pressure and movement through rolling (similar to what massage does) to increase circulation in the area and release the fascial tissue.
Foam rolling can be a weekly part of your senior fitness routine, that should also include flexibility, balance, endurance and strength training.
Getting Started: Important Foam Rolling Basics
Follow these foam rolling basics:
- Softer is better, especially for first-timers and as our muscles and joints age.
- Start with 10 minutes at a time and slowly progress to what works best for you.
- Do not roll joints.
- Foam rolling shouldn’t hurt. It should feel good and help relieve aches and pains.
- Ease into rolling in multiple directions, front to back, side to side and circles.
4 Foam Rolling Exercises for Seniors
- To release tight hips and butt and soothe sore knees:
- To soothe back pain:
- To relieve arthritis pain in fingers and wrist:
Use a malleable ball, such as a stress relief ball. Gently roll ball across top of right hand, fingers splayed, from wrist and over and between each finger. Repeat sequence on left hand. Follow with straight-arm wrist extension, flexion and rotation. Lift and splay fingers and hold 4 seconds, then gently close them around ball.
- To address ankle range of motion and foot pain:
Use a malleable ball, such as a stress relief ball. Remove shoes. Roll arch across ball from front to back. Repeat 4 times from medial to lateral arch. Lean arms and torso across thigh to increase pressure.
Pain-Free and Fit as an Older Adult
The most important thing to remember is that you can start a wellness program and be pain-free at any age. It is never too late to start exercising, stretching and foam rolling. The little things you do each day add up to living a healthy senior life.
Our fitness and aquatic center, The Connection at Twin Lakes, offers a full schedule of senior fitness classes and integrative therapies to help you live a healthy, active lifestyle. The Connection serves adults 50 years and older and welcomes non-residents from the surrounding community to become members and enjoy the benefits and services.