Why You Should Never Foam Roll Your Back, According To An Expert

Foam rolling is to the body what salt is to food: it makes everything 10,0000 x better. But despite its many ~magical~ benefits (which you can read more about here) most gym-goers totally neglect it during their warm up or cool down– or, do it completely wrong. Take foam rolling your back for example, which, as it turns out, is a very bad idea indeed.

“When you think of typical foam rolling, like rolling out the calves or quads, you move up and down over that tight muscle. You don’t want to do that same type of rolling out with the spine,” Physical therapist Danielle Weiss tells Well + Good.

Her reasoning? “The vertebrae’s spinous prominences are bony, and it can be really uncomfortable and irritating to roll up and down like that.”

Plus, if you’re a regular subscriber to the practise, it has the potential to worsen any soreness you may be experiencing – kinda ironic, considering that’s probably what drew you to it in the first place. “What it does is repeatedly jam the vertebral facet joints up against each other, and this can cause irritation of the joints that eventually leads to back pain,” Danielle explains.

This can even occur in people with no spinal complaints, which means if you have a pre-existing problem in that body part (e.g. sciatica or a disc herniation) it’s a total no-go. 

“[Foam rolling the lower back] can be potentially dangerous, as it often forces the spine into more extension that it can handle,” Danielle adds. “Too much extension in these cases decreases the space of the spinal and foraminal canals and can lead to spinal cord and nerve impingement, and a multitude of issues can arise like shooting pain or weakness.”

So, what can you do if you wanna stretch things out? Well, instead of moving around with your body weight on the foam roller, Weiss suggests lying directly on top of it. (Think lengthways with your arms outstretched in a ‘T’ shape.) Or, simply use a small tennis ball to move lactic acid and get blood flow into the muscle without involving your bones. Her hot tip? It should “always feel like the muscle is being released, but not be painful.”

Her hot tip? It should “always feel like the muscle is being released, but not be painful.” Noted.

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