When I sat down & tried to work out which was the most common topic, I was surprised to find it was about triggers points & ability of tools like foam rollers & pool noodles to treat them. I am not sure why I was surprised. But I suspect it is a common source of questions because most people have heard about the need to address trigger points but aren’t entirely sure why they should & how to go about doing so.
So I thought I would create a ‘cheat sheet’ of the most frequently asked questions. In subsequent posts, I will answer some of the more sport-specific questions. For some background on the topic, check out my previous post on the topic.
Can I use a pool noodle instead of a foam roller?
The short answer is yes. BUT personally I use & recommend that my client’s use a foam roller.
- Foam rollers are firmer & are better at creating the change you need & want in your body.
- Because pool noodles are softer, if used regularly, they break down more quickly – meaning they only get softer with each subsequent use.
You can buy foam rollers in lots of places these days – from “two dollar shops” (though I wouldn’t recommend that option!) to sports stores. But I suggest you check out a reputable physiotherapy goods supplier as their products tend to better quality & will last longer, making them better value for money.
If you are in Australia, I recommend Physio Supplies*. I buy a lot of my (personal & business) equipment from them. Their equipment is great quality & delivery in Australia is free (we love that!).
What is the most effective tool for self-myofascial release (SMR)?
My personal preference again is a foam roller but it does depend on:
- Which body part you are trying to treat. A golf ball or tennis ball can be more useful when trying to treat smaller trigger points in & around your hips which are difficult to reach with a foam roller.
- Your pain threshold. If your pain threshold is low, you may wish to use a softer tool like a (soft) massage ball instead of torturing yourself with something that is harder.
Either way, it is essential that your technique is correct otherwise you risk further aggravating the trigger points &/or damaging tissue.
How do trigger points effect your body?
Think about an elastic (rubber) band.
If there is nothing wrong with it, the band will stretch easily.
But if you were to tie a knot in it, the band won’t stretch as much. The knot limits & restricts how much & how far it will stretch.
The muscles & fascia in your body (all the ‘stuff’ responsible for holding your skeleton in an upright position) work the same way.
Without any ‘knots’ (trigger points), your muscles & fascia will stretch relatively easily within your (normal) range of motion.
But if there is a ‘knot’ (trigger point), your body isn’t able to stretch quite as much. The ‘knot’ (trigger point) limits & restricts how much your tissue is able to stretch.
Now going back to the elastic band for a minute. An elastic band, left alone, has no energy. Only when it is stretched does it create energy which can be used to propel the band back to its normal position (& sometimes beyond).
Again, your body is the same; in order to create energy, your muscles & other tissues must first be stretched. But if your ability to stretch your muscles is restricted due to the presence of trigger points, then their ability to generate energy (which is necessary in order to move a body part or propel yourself forward) is also limited.
Less stretch = less energy created = less power generated.
No-one wants to produce less power which is why looking after your body & working on your trigger points is critical to optimal sports performance.
Should I use the foam roller before or after my workout?
I am going to answer this by asking you a question – when are YOU more likely to do it?
Both options have advantages. But the advantages don’t matter if you aren’t going to do it in the first place.
Are you someone who needs to ease themselves into your training sessions? If so, do it beforehand while you pysch yourself up to get out the front door to start your session.
On the other hand, do it after your training session if you are someone who has to get out the door quickly in case you change your mind about doing the session or life gets in the way & you lose your opportunity to training done.
But to answer the question, doing it before a training session allows you to:
- warm your body up ahead of your training session;
- treat any (existing) triggers points which might have lingered since a previous training session or which have since formed due to lifestyle-related reasons (like slouching over the laptop as I am currently doing!).
This can improve the effectiveness of, & results you get from, the training session.
Using a foam roller or other tool to treat your body after a training session:
- allows you to address any trigger points which formed or which were aggravated during your training session; and
- can improve your body’s ability to recover from the training session & get ready for the next one.
I would love to know your experience in using foam rollers, pool noodles or any other tool to address trigger points. Do you use it as part of your training regime? How often do you use it? How do you feel afterwards?*affiliate link. Should you order any products from Physio Supplies, you pay no more but I will receive a small commission.