It’s not the most elegant of activities, let me tell you. I’m sitting on a foam roller - the new, long one my husband just bought me - with my hands behind me on the mat, and rolling back and forth. It takes quite a bit of concentration to stay in the right position, that is, the one where I am not propelling myself off the roller and onto the floor. Several minutes of foam rolling takes a surprising amount of effort, just to hold myself up and balance while rolling onto all the different muscle groups.
The idea of this simple and effective, though seriously uncomfortable device, is to release the fascia around the muscles. Fascia is a clingfilm-like substance that wraps around all the muscles and organs, offering support and reducing friction when we move. Ideally, all these fibres slide past one another easily as we move (imagine long silky, straight hair) but sometimes the fibres can get stuck together (imagine that hair with ice cream in it, for example). Myofascial release by foam rolling is a technique that stretches and smooths this clingfilm, so the body can rid itself of muscle tightness, soreness, and inflammation; it can also help to increase the range of motion of the joints.
Like many people, I have a love-hate relationship with my foam roller. I know it’s good for me, I know it helps my muscle recovery in a way that enables me to keep running or working out when I would otherwise suffer from a limiting level of muscle tightness. But man, it can hurt! The trick, you see, is to find a sore spot and to concentrate the pressure of your rolling right there, where it hurts the most. The pain is an indicator that the fascia needs releasing in that spot, and the pressure of the roller is what will help to release it.
We don’t get over pain by bypassing it, we get over it by feeling the pain and working through it.