As you may know, I have been a huge fan of foam rollers. I used them before all of my workouts and they were the last piece of the warmup to get cut if time was limited.
I was recently asked if I still thought they were valuable now that I have been practicing massage for awhile. I responded that I still think they are great and will continue to use mine, but I do have a much better understanding of how they work now.
As opposed to specific bodywork, foam rollers are a big broad tool. They use compression and a pumping action to stimulate blood flow and break up tight muscles. But now that I have received and learned so much about massage, I think their true benefit is that they remind the body where the sore areas are and that reminder tells the body to fix the problem.
I am sure you’ve had the experience of sitting at a desk too long only to realize your back or neck is in a lot of pain. It was probably there five minutes before, but you had no idea. As soon as you realize the pain, you quickly move position, stretch, or do something to address the problem. The foam roller works the same way. It shows your mind that your IT band is a little tender. Something you may or may not have ever realized. But now that you do know about it, your body can go to work on fixing it.
The mechanical benefits are certainly there with foam rollers and compression is technique I use often in my massage. But the mental awareness of rolling is also a huge benefit in my opinion. If you haven’t used a foam roller, give it a shot and if it’s been a while since you’ve spent any time with the torture tube, get back on it and let your body work to repair itself.