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Trigger Point Therapy - Using a Foam Roller

Posted by Judith Winer on

A foam roller can be an effective way for you to help relieve your own trigger points .... but there are some important rules that you need to follow.

Self-myofascial release (SMR), also known as “foam rolling,” has transformed from a once mysterious technique used only by professional athletes, coaches, and therapists to a familiar everyday practice for people at all levels of fitness.

A foam roller can be very effective for warming up ‘cold’ muscles before stretching and loosening knots or ‘trigger points’ in muscles that may otherwise be difficult to access. Bear in mind that you don’t always have to roll over the knots, sometimes it’s sufficient just to pause on them with the roller, breathe and let the tension melt away.

Trigger Points

The term trigger point was first used in 1942 by Dr. Janet Travell who came up with the phrase to describe the painful lumps, or nodules, felt within tight bands of muscle. Since then, we've learnt a lot more about trigger points and the features they have in common:

- Pain, often exquisite, at the specific point

- A nodule set deep within a tight/taut band of muscle 

- When pressed, pain radiates out in a specific way that can be reproduced (referred pain map)

- Pain that us felt often remotely from where the trigger point manifests - The pain felt, often cannot be explained by a neurological examination

General Instructions

While rolling out you must keep your muscles as relaxed as possible and keep your breathing steady throughout the entire exercise.

We strongly recommend avoiding using the foam roller on your knees and elbows; it could cause pain and injuries.We would advise you initially to use the foam roller under guidance.

Whenever rolling on the foam roller, hold at any trigger points for 10-20 seconds or until you feel the pain diminishing. Always stay on the muscle and don’t roll onto the tendons or bones. Build up the pressure slowly and sensitively on those sore spots. Remain on the sweet spot until it releases but NOT longer than 1-2 minutes.

Take note of these rules before you start:

Know the muscle that needs treating. There is a high probability that the trigger points are not in the same location as the pain! There are commonly known “referred pain patterns” that indicate the likely location of trigger points. Do your homework; use a guide; or ask your therapist before you start self treating!

Do not apply pressure tools (or anything else!) to the spaces between joints. Avoid any form of pressure contact especially with the back of the knee, inside of the elbow, armpit, and the front and sides of the neck. Take special care to seek professional advice before applying any pressure to any area of the head or neck, especially if you have neck pain.

Whether you are sitting, standing, or laying down, make sure that you are relaxed, and that the muscle to be treated is relaxed (do not tense the muscle during treatment).

Stretch the muscles after treatment. Always start slowly. Have fun! Below you will find details of 3 of our favorite foam roller exercises for the shoulder:


1. Shoulders (Rotator Cuff Release)

Step 1: Place the foam roller under your shoulder blade (Rotator Cuff).

Step 2: Using your legs, slowly move your body forwards and backwards. The foam roller will massage the shoulder blade area and the back of the shoulder. 

Step 3: Complete 10-12 rollouts on each side.  


2. Shoulders (Front Side)



Step 1: Lie on your stomach with one arm outstretched overhead. 

Step 2: Place the foam roller on the floor between your chest and shoulder.

Step 3: Complete 10-12 rollouts on each side.


3. Shoulder Flexors and Extensors  

Step 1: Lie on your back with the foam roller underneath your back and supporting your head and spine.

Step 2: Extend one arm over your head and keep it parallel to the ground. Place the other arm on the ground by the side of your body.

Step 3: Hold that position for 45-60 seconds.

Step 4: Switch arm positions and repeat. 


This trigger point blog is intended to be used for information purposes only and is not intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment or to substitute for a medical diagnosis and/or treatment rendered or prescribed by a physician or competent healthcare professional. This information is designed as educational material, but should not be taken as a recommendation for treatment of any particular person or patient. Always consult your physician if you think you need treatment or if you feel unwell. 


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