Sunday, January 4, 2009

Foam Rollers - Laugh all you want

The first time I saw someone using a foam roller, I remember thinking, "What a total crock!"

The exercises I saw on it left me completely nonplussed, and when I saw it on the schedule at the RKC II workshop, I thought that I'd just sit there and try to stay awake.

Funny how things change.

After a presentation from Mark Reifkind (now Master RKC), a little over a year later, and a lot of research hours, I've found the foam roller to be one of the most intelligent self-care, maintenance, and restorative tools I could share with many of my clients, students, and patients.

Case in point...

I came across a patient who'd been downing over-the-counter pain medications (ibuprofen, aspirin, whatever...everything that was legal without a prescription) like most people won't even down vitamins. He'd been suffering for years with knee pain that was slowly working its way up to his hip and lower back.

His orthopedist told him that he'd likely need surgery for his knee, which horrified him as someone barely in his 30's.

This was a guy who was athletic, strong, and did a lot of very active things until his knee pain started getting in the way of what he could do. Surgery was something he wanted to avoid at all costs, so he sought out chiropractic, physical therapy, and acupuncture treatments, but he complained that the results were marginal at best.

Frustrated, scared, and close to wits end, he came to my clinic. After a couple of tests, I said, "Aside from the cost of this initial consultation, the solution to your problem's gonna cost you about $20."

He looked at me like I just slapped his little sister in front of him.

I explained my diagnosis and the mechanism of his knee pain. Then I had him try just ONE specific release pattern on the foam roller.

Screaming like Mel Gibson during the electrocution scene in Lethal Weapon as he performed the release pattern, he got up afterwards and tried out his knee. He was shocked at the dramatic reduction in pain... a reduction that nobody else had been able to provide him with!

Like a true results-oriented man, he e-mailed or texted me every few days after that with "still good". One day his e-mail read "I can't believe how a few minutes on that $20 foam roller did more lasting good for me than hundreds of bucks that I spent on other treatments, but what really scares the sh-t out of me is the realization that I almost went in for surgery on this knee. Thanks, man."

Now don't get me wrong. There are PLENTY of great reasons to get orthopedic surgery. But if you're intelligent, you try to exhaust all of your more conservative options FIRST and use surgery as a last resort. Even the best surgeons I know say that to their friends & families!

I'll be doing a foam roller workshop down at Kettlebells Orange County in Irvine and again as part of my Hard Style workshop at the Harris Academy in San Diego later on this winter. We haven't finalized the dates yet, but if you're interested in attending, please join the KBLA Mailing list by clicking here!

In the meantime, get a hold of your own foam roller from Perform Better. It's a quality item that will hold its shape and resilience better than 99.99% of the imitators out there. This is some of the safest, cheapest, yet most high-yield stuff you can do for pain relief that gets right to the cause of your agony in many cases. Now just come on out and learn how to do it right!


Charles R. said...

I got one a couple of weeks ago (from Perform Better) and it is really making a difference. I, too, thought it was silly, until I started using it, and things started cracking and snapping...and loosening up.

What was the exercise you had him doing for his knee, I wonder?

Pikes Peak Kettlebell Club said...

I am curious as to your thoughts on Mike's take on foam rollers.

Steve Meidinger, RKC

Dr. Mark Cheng said...

Charles, no need to wonder. The pattern I had him do was a popliteal release.

Mr. Meidinger, everyone's entitled to their own opinion, but I'm more concerned about how to apply what when. Just as there are schools of thought that swear that joint mobilizations should be done without causing cavitations (the 'pop' sound), there are also those that say that done in the proper context, a high velocity low amplitude thrust can greatly reduce pain & restore mobility in a shorter amount of time.

Everything's about context. Mr. Nelson has his reasons for being against pain, and I think that he's absolutely right for certain situations. The Z way of "no pain, no pain" is great for a lot of things. I have complete respect for it with certain situations. However, I've yet to be convinced in a clinical setting that it's the skeleton key.

Pikes Peak Kettlebell Club said...

Very good points...every application has its time and place. I respect your opinion and I just wanted to hear your take.

Have a great 2009!

Steve Meidinger, RKC

Dr. Mark Cheng said...

Mr. Meidinger, thank you for your kind words. I just want to clarify (before any Z-fanatic starts trying to toilet paper my office) that I'm not at all knocking Z-Health. I'm just searching for that "ah-hah!" moment with Z that I have yet to experience. With Pavel's Hard Style & with Gray Cook's FMS & with Rif's presentation at the RKC II, the "ah-hah" moments were immediate and powerful.

People in every field of endeavor (Z-health, Graston, GS, Hardstyle, Diversified, DNFT, Tui-Na, Osteopathy, 5 Elements acupuncture, JKD Concepts, Wing Chun, etc., etc.) tend to get a little myopic & chauvinistic. But there's value in almost everything as long as you're clear on when to apply what and with whom.

As long as the results are tangible and appreciable, and the patient/client appreciates the significance of the improvement, you've got yourself a success.

With the selective application of the foam roller release patterns, I've noticed tremendous improvements on myself, and then on my patients, clients, and students. Those measurable results speak volumes to me.

Franz Snideman said...

I concur....Foam roller are very effective! My brother taught me how to use them years ago and I must say....I don't know why I don't use them more often.

Most pain in the body has a myofascial origen...wo why not treat the soft tissues first....just like you said Doc!

Happy New Year to you and the family!!!!

SG Human Performance said...

Terrific Comments everyone. I have been a firm believer in using foam roller in the therapy setting and in some cases like what Mark says it can clear up pain and improve mobility very quickly. I usually follow my MFR work with some mobility contract relax and then perform stability exercises in the new range of motion that was just achieved.

Sorry getting a bit wordy, my point is that I have used foam rollers and they have produced terrific results. Enough said: Use what works for you.

Geoff Neupert said...


I gave up foam rollers about 3 years ago. I couldn't get out of chronic knee and hip pain, and I was an "expert" on how to use them. That's how I found Z-Health. Just like one's experience with an RKC, the same holds true for one's experience with a Z-Trainer. Some "get it," some don't.

Glad you're finding success with foam rollers with your patients.

Best to you in '09,