Foam Roller Therapy For Beginners

Jul 21st, 2011

Comments: 50
Category: Massage Therapy

Foam Roller Therapy For Beginners

It is estimated that over 116 million Americans suffer from debilitating chronic pain each year, of which low back pain is the most common. According to The American Academy of Pain Medicine, “Back pain is the leading cause of disability in Americans under 45 years old.  More than 26 million Americans between the ages of 20-64 experience frequent back pain.” There is a proven and effective way to treat most forms of chronic pain — self-myofascial release using foam roller therapy.By performing self-myofascial release techniques using a foam roller or ball, you can reduce trigger points, decrease tissue tension, and break down scar tissue adhesions in injured myofascial tissue (muscle and fascia) formed by a combination of acute trauma, poor posture, repetitive movement, over-training, or inadequate sleep. The goal of self-myofascial release is to speed up the healing and recovery process, reduce pain, improve joint range of motion, balance the body, and prevent injury.

How does self-myofascial release work?

Fascia is a three-dimensional fibrous matrix interconnected throughout the body from the top of the head to the bottom of the feet.  Fascia surrounds muscles, bones, and joints providing the body structural integrity and strength. Dysfunctional fascia is a leading cause of chronic pain, reduced flexibility, and decreased athletic performance.

Located within the muscle and tendon tissue are two sensory receptors called the muscle spindle and the golgi tendon organ.  These sensory receptors monitor muscular and tendon tension from the surrounding tissue and relates it to your nervous system. They are highly sensitive to changes in muscle tension and rate of change. Stimulation of the golgi tendon organ leads to a decrease in soft tissue tension.

Placing pressure directly on tight or overly toned muscle tissue using deep tissue massage therapy or self-myofascial release techniques stimulates the golgi tendon organ to relax tension in the soft tissue.  Decreases in soft tissue tension will help break down scar tissue adhesions, increase joint mobility, reduce pain, and improve overall function.


  • correct muscle imbalances
  • increase joint range of motion
  • decrease muscle soreness and relieve joint stress
  • decrease tight or overly toned muscle tissue
  • increase extensibility of muscle and tendon tissue
  • increase performance
  • maintain normal functional muscular length

Self Myofascial Release Instructions

Self-myfascial techniques are very simple to learn.  To perform self-myofascial release you will need a foam roller and a small ball (such as a golf ball, tennis ball, lacrosse ball, or softball).

In this article I will go over self myofascial release for beginners. This is a shorter session that should take between 30-45 minutes to complete. The goal of this session is to begin to unlock the hips and shoulders. After you have spent a few weeks and feel more comfortable with self-myofascial release therapy, there is an intermediate and advanced session that I teach.

Following the directions in the pictures below, place your body weight on the foam roller over taut bands of muscle tissue that need to be released. For the best results, begin near the center of the body and slowly work away from the center of the body.

Relax your body, breathe, and slowly roll through the length of the muscle. Your muscles will naturally tense up, especially when you hit a trigger point.  Ease into it and allow yourself to relax.

If you find a painful spot, stop and visualize the soft tissue as melting butter and the foam roller as a hot knife. Allow pressure into the tissue and within 30-60 seconds you will notice a significant reduction in pain. Once the pain reduces significantly (20-30%), move on to the next painful spot and repeat.

Spend between 3-5 minutes on each side. It is very important that you spend an equal amount of time on both sides and that you work through each of the areas listed to gain the most out of self-myofascial release.

Beginners Session Pictures


Use a small ball, such as a golf ball.


Place roller length-wise to your body. Bend your knee to 90 degrees with your inner thigh on the roller.

Slowly massage out to the knee seeking out the most painful spots.

Tensor Fascia Latte

Place roller beneath the top of the hip bone. Lie with one hip on the roller. Opposite hip is off the roller.

Massage from the hip bone to the top of the thigh. Slowly rotate your opposite hip up towards the ceiling.


Sit on the roller. Turn your body to one side. Massage through the entire gluteal area from the crack of your butt to the outside of your hip, top of the pelvis to the top of the thigh.

Teres Minor

Lie on your side with your arm overhead. Slowly massage from the top of the arm to below the shoulder blade. Do not massage in the arm pit area.

Upper Back

Massage from the top of the shoulders to the bottom of the rib cage. Roll your body 10 degrees to massage the spinal erectors (muscles that run parallel to the spine).

Changing arm position will expose different muscles around the shoulder blade.

Other areas you can roll out are the calves, IT band (outside of thigh), quads (front of thigh), chest, and shoulders.

The first couple of weeks of foam roller therapy will be painful. It is important to be diligent and commit to doing it every day for two weeks, because the payoff is well worth it. If you use the foam roller every day, within a couple of weeks you will begin to notice not only does the exercise not hurt as much, it will begin to feel good and you will be on the path to feeling great.  Over time the muscle and fascial tissues heal, improving flexibility, function, and performance providing chronic pain relief and injury prevention.

When to self-myofascial release?

  • When you hurt
  • Before you exercise
  • After you exercise
  • In the morning
  • Before bed
  • While watching TV
  • Just about any time is a good time

Self-myofascial release on a foam roller offers an effective, inexpensive, and convenient way to reduce muscle tension and reduce scar tissue adhesion. Self-myofascial release can help you get relief and recovery from chronic pain and injury, improve athletic and work performance, and help you reach your health and fitness goals.

This is the foam roller I recommend: The Grid by Trigger Point Therapy


DISCUSSION 50 Comments

  1. brendan July 21, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    great blog. Very informative.

  2. benita g July 21, 2011 at 9:03 pm

    well done..thanks for the info and great pics

  3. Self Treatment For Plantar Fasciitis | The Art of Fitness - Austin Deep Tissue Massage Therapy July 27, 2011 at 7:04 pm

    [...] average it takes three or four massage sessions for a client to be pain free.  When my clients do self-myofascial release, flexibility and corrective exercise, and buy new shoes, they generally are able to get back into [...]

    • marlene July 31, 2011 at 12:26 pm

      I have suddenly developed tender painful heels, particularly the right one, which is the side I have hip and knee pain that feels like nerve pain. I have not ever found shoes of any type for around 20 years ( athletic, comfortable, etc.) that do not hurt my feet after wearing them for a few hours. You mention new shoes. Are there shoes you can recommend or describe? Thanks for the informative website.

      • jjreth July 31, 2011 at 6:53 pm

        Hi Marlene,
        Thanks for the comment. The first thing I would address with you is the pain in your foot. It is not a good idea to make a major change in foot wear while you are in the middle of a significant chronic pain injury. I suggest finding an experienced, qualified deep tissue therapist to work on your foot, calves and hips. Preferably somebody that has a keen understanding of the fascial system. Start doing the exercises listed in the article. They will help you find relief.

        Once you are out of the acute pain cycle with this injury, you can begin strengthening the musculature of your foot and lower leg. This will help build your foot strength so you can walk pain free regardless of the shoe you wear.

        As for shoe selection. I cannot give you any direct advice since I have not treated you personally. I don’t know enough about your personal injury history, nor am I able to work directly with you on corrective exercises and stride correction. I generally recommend to clients to find the most minimalist shoe they can wear without pain. And over time, to slowly transition to a more and more minimalistic shoe as their foot gets stronger and more capable. I have uploaded a couple of great articles written by a doctor who owns a minimalist shoe store in West Virginia. It is the best advice you will find without working directly with a professional therapist.



        I hope this helps. Keep me informed of your progress. For right now I suggest focusing on working through this painful injury. Do the self massage and flexibility work every day. It will take a few weeks to completely resolve, but you should notice relief within a few days. If you have any more questions please contact me. Good luck.
        Jesse James Retherford

  4. Karien M Fox July 28, 2011 at 11:33 am

    Good stuff Jesse. I never did quite get how to use the roller but now I see. Also, love the hair cut.

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  12. Elaine October 20, 2011 at 5:36 am

    Thank you for the great blog. I always wanted to know the most effective way to use the roller. Also it now makes sense to me how it works releasing facia. I am a yoga teacher and work with lots of people who have aches and pains. It’s always great to add new tricks to my bag.

    Be well,

  13. Kristen October 24, 2011 at 9:35 am

    Hi Jesse,

    Thanks so much for your informative articles. I bought a GRID foam roller a few months ago to help deal with intensely tight muscles all over, due to a number of injuries, but have not had great success using it. However, thanks to your articles I now have a much better idea of how to use it successfully!

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  15. Sarah Gantenbein January 4, 2012 at 7:34 am

    Thanks for the illustrations on your article. I’ve had a good foam roller sitting in my massage room for a while, and now I’m going to use it on myself! I had tried it, but quit because it was too painful. From your article I’m reminded the pain will subside with use, so I’m committing to work with it, to feel more range of motion and “open!”

    • jjreth January 5, 2012 at 6:56 am

      Great to hear Sarah. Come back and let me know how it feels in a couple of weeks.

      Jesse James Retherford

      • Greg V February 7, 2012 at 4:18 am


        I would like to know your progress also. I will not pry and ask you the extent of you injury, but I really would like to know how long before your body made its adjustment and the “pain” subsided.

        I have only used the foot massage ball, per se, and I love it. I know there are programs and teachings which focus on stress points in the hands and feet.

        Greg V

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  18. Lauren Lucia BS, LMT February 7, 2012 at 4:20 pm

    Regarding “Foam Rolling for Beginners”…

    Client results are directly proportional to the level of commitment to using the foam roller. I have clients whose relationship to the roller spans from best friend to dog toy and it definitely shows. A fantastic tool for self maintenance after exercise, for improving muscle health, and between massage, which speeds results and increases the value of the money spent on my services.

    Keep the great info coming, Jessie!

    • jjreth February 8, 2012 at 8:50 am

      Thanks Lauren for the comments. It is great to hear from other therapists who so strongly advocate for self care exercises such as foam rolling. It is a definite sign of a great therapist. Keep up the great work.

      Jesse James Retherford

  19. Joyce February 8, 2012 at 9:38 am

    I have a question, my son has been accepted on the local high school football team and is not able to complete the training. I have been working out for over 20 years and want to aid him in his training. I noticed that he is not very flexible and I am wondering if this would help him? If so would you still recommend the 30-45 minute usage of the roller, thank you for your time and help. I also will be earning my personal fitness trainer certification this year.

    • jjreth February 8, 2012 at 12:09 pm

      Hi Joyce,

      Thank you for the question.

      I have a couple of questions for you in return. How old is your son? Why is he unable to complete the training?

      In answer to your question, yes with regular usage, the foam roller will help with flexibility and mobility. Especially if used with a well rounded flexibility and functional movement program. This article explains the beginners series I have most clients start with. I have an intermediate and advanced session that will ultimately aid your son the more. I have worked with a few high school kids with pain and injury issues. It is very difficult to get them to do the work for themselves. I find it crucial that they willingly choose to do the work for themselves.

      Jesse James Retherford

  20. lucy delsarto February 14, 2012 at 10:00 am

    Great info but might I suggest using RACQUETBALLS instead of golf balls. As a professional racquetball player and coach…I use them and give them to my clients. The ball is not as hard and the flexibility of it make it great for pressure (if you want to apply more pressure, simply stand up rather than sitting down while using it on your feet).

    Thanks for posting…Wellness is easy to do and easy not to do, choose wisely!

    TCOY = Take Care of You!


    • jjreth February 14, 2012 at 8:19 pm

      Hi Lucy,

      Thanks for the comment. A racquet ball does sound quite useful. I wouldn’t replace the golf ball completely though. For people with severe pain, I could see a racquet ball being very useful. It would also be great for using around the face and neck. Thanks again.

      Jesse James Retherford

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  26. Charlene July 21, 2012 at 11:05 am

    Thanks so much for this informative website. I have had a few of my massage clients tell me they use the foam roller and didn’t actually fully understand what it was and how it could help until I read this blog. It seems like a great way to get clients to do some self-care at home. I may start promoting this. Will definitely be staying in touch with this blog!

  27. Christine September 7, 2012 at 6:20 am

    Thank you so much for all your informative articles on barefoot/minimalist running and using the foam roller. I am 51 and have only been running a short time. I see the health benefits but I have also been dealing with various injuries. Because of your articles, I have started over and am using a roller and finding all sorts of sore places. My family thinks I’m nuts going outside to walk barefoot (and I do have to be careful here in the urban jungle) but I really want to be able to run again without the injuries. Thanks again.

    • jjreth September 8, 2012 at 5:28 am

      Thanks for the comments Christine. Remember to be patient and take your time. The path you’re on is for improved movement, not just in the now, but for the rest of your life. If you have any questions or concerns along the way, please feel free to contact me.

      Jesse James Retherford

  28. Marty Amber October 7, 2012 at 4:09 am

    Yo, thanks. After some time, now I figured out how I can reuse that cardboard tube I kept. I knew it would come in handy.

  29. Jim Harnish November 27, 2012 at 7:39 am

    Sounds terrific. Do you know where a person could get certification to teach Foam Roller Technique?

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