I Tried Foam Rolling Away My Body Aches

Experts say that scooching across a foam tube can undo tight-muscle misery. Our stiff, sore writer decided to roll with it.

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If my muscles had a Twitter account, their tag would be #TheStruggleIsReal. For years I dealt with frustratingly persistent pain that started in my calves and radiated to my hips and back. I tried stretching, massage, yoga — but my muscles just said no. It didn't help that I have two young daughters to keep up with. Just getting off the floor after playing with them triggered old-lady groans, and I blatantly cheated at games of Twister. (Sorry, kids.)

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During a recent yoga class, the instructor took one look at my pained face and told me to make friends with a foam roller. I'd seen the loglike things before but hadn't thought to use one. Honestly, I wasn't interested in rolling out my muscles like a hunk of Play-Doh, and I'd heard that it hurts. But then I started to wonder: Could it be any worse than my current pain — and more to the point, would it improve things?

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Ever hopeful, I went to see Sue Hitzmann, the New York-based creator of the MELT method, a technique that includes using foam rollers to massage away crotchety aches.

Logging Time

That's how I found myself on a mat with a blue roller wedged under my legs. Hitzmann instructed me to prop myself up so that my calves pressed into the log. So far, so good. Then the rolling-pin action began: forward, backward, forward, and back. My muscles were kneaded like cookie dough as I worked around and over gnarled spots with each rotation. Ooph — so this is how gingerbread men feel. Not exactly comfortable, but — similar to a deep tissue massage — it was a productive pain.

When the session wrapped, I was surprised to find the tightness gone. The next morning, I slowly stepped out of bed, waiting for my body to protest. While I didn't feel as loose as I had right after the session, the aches had decidedly lessened.

Now I roll out at home a few times a week. It becomes less uncomfortable the more you do it, so I'm shockingly diligent (and I can catch up on Scandal as I roll, so there's that). But what really keeps me committed is that my near-constant stream of aches and pains has slowed to a manageable trickle. Do I feel the way I did at 25? Nuh-uh. The roller isn't a cure, but Downward Dogs are oh so much more doable. And as for that Twitter status, I think it's time for an update: #ImFlexyAndIKnowIt.

Ready to Roll?

Foam rolling can ease exercise-induced muscle soreness and increase range of motion. Choose your roller carefully, says Debra A. Stroiney, PhD, an assistant professor of sport and exercise science at Gannon University in Erie, PA; its firmness can determine how much tightness is released. Go too soft, nothing will happen. Too firm and you'll be yelping as you roll. Choose a medium-density roller — the right one shouldn't feel good, but the discomfort should be manageable. Ooh is OK, but ow-wow is not.

This story originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of Dr. Oz The Good Life.

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