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How to Use a Foam Roller for Lower Back Pain

by Patty Weasler, RN August 13, 2019 0 Comments

Woman using foam roller on her lower back

Foam rolling for lower back pain relieves discomfort caused by an injury, sore muscles, or arthritis. It is a form of self massage that uses your own body weight to apply pressure to tight muscles to reduce pain. It is an effective, medication-free way to work on the areas that are commonly linked to low back pain. Try these exercises with a combination of traditional stretching and core work to get the best results.

Best Foam Rolling Exercises for Lower Back Pain

These foam rolling exercises work on the most common areas that contribute to low back pain. Since lower back pain is usually caused by other areas of the body focus on these areas to find the best relief.

Hip Flexor Roll

  1. Lay on the ground with your foam roller under you, perpendicular to your body.
  2. Place the roller under your hip and set your upper leg in front of your body with your foot flat on the ground.
  3. Roll your hip up and down with the foam roller.
  4. Repeat the movement on the other side.

Hamstring Roll

  1. Get on the ground with the foam roller under your right thigh.
  2. Bend your left knee with your foot flat on the ground.
  3. Lift your buttocks slightly off the floor.
  4. Slowly roll your body forward and backward letting the roller move from the upper thigh to above the knee.
  5. Roll for 30 to 60 seconds on each hamstring.

    Glute Roll

    1. Sit on the ground with the foam roller under one side of your buttocks.
    2. Keep one foot on the ground and cross your other foot over your knee.
    3. Support your body with one hand behind you and the other resting on your crossed leg.
    4. Slowly roll up and down.
    5. Repeat the movement on the other side, rolling each side for 30 to 60 seconds.

      Areas to Target With Foam Roller

      We’ve covered all the areas you shouldn’t roll. Now let’s talk about the spots you should be working on and why they are so important.

      • Hamstrings

        The hamstrings are attached to your hip, which connects to the low back muscles. If your hamstrings are tight they will tilt your hip bone down, putting more stress on your low back muscles.

      • Hip Flexors

        Working on the hip flexors will reduce tension in the lower back. The hip flexors and lumbar spine are connected. Massaging this area will reduce tension in the lower back, break down muscle knots, and decrease low back pain.

      • Glutes

        The lower back muscles are impacted by so many muscles. Preventing tightness in your glutes will decrease additional strain and stress on the lower back. As one of the largest muscle groups in your body, it’s easy to see why they are so important.

      The Most Common Mistakes

      If you’re new to foam rolling or have been rolling for years you need to be aware of a few common mistakes that can either reduce the effectiveness of foam rolling or actually cause an injury.

      • Rolling your Lower Back

        You should never foam roll your lower back, it can exacerbate your condition. There are no bones or solid structures to protect your spine from the pressure. Rolling the spine can cause the spinal muscles to spam. Instead, you should focus on the areas that are the causes of low back pain--hamstrings, glutes, shoulders, and hips.

      • Moving too quickly

        You need to move much slower than you’d expect when you’re working on your muscles and connective tissue. Don’t move faster than one inch per second. This will give your muscles time to adjust and loosen with the pressure.

      • Only Rolling Over Painful Spots

        If you are only foam rolling over sore areas you are neglecting to give the other muscles that may actually be the cause of your pain the attention they need. Since muscle pain can be caused by multiple muscles from other areas of your body you need to focus your efforts on more than one spot. It might ‘hurt so good’ to foam roll right where it hurts but work on the surrounding muscles to find long term pain relief.

      *Some soreness with foam rolling should be expected, but it should never cause severe pain. Stop working on any spot that causes pain. Refer to a physical therapist with any questions.

      Choosing the Best Foam Roller

      Whether you’re warming up for a workout or cooling down after one, foam rolling will release tension and stress in your muscles. We’ve shown you the right ways to target each muscle group. Now let’s talk about choosing the right foam roller and the important factors you should consider.

      • Density

        Foam rollers are tube shaped and made of dense foam. Their firmness level can vary from low density to firm. Check out which one you should choose for your lower back pain.

        Low vs Firm

        If you are new to foam rolling we recommend starting with a low density roller. A low density roller will be more comfortable and is better for people with sensitive muscles. It will also make it easier to get used to foam rolling techniques without causing unnecessary pain.

        If you are a serious athlete or have experience foam rolling then a firm density roller might be a better option for you. A more dense roller will break down fascia surrounding the muscle, and give you a deep myofascial release massage. On top of all that, a firm foam roller will reduce recovery time after a serious workout or training session.

      • Texture

        Foam rollers can have a smooth or bumpy surface. Both types have a place in relieving lower back pain, let’s see which one is best for you.

        Smooth vs. Bumpy

        A smooth foam roller is a great starting point. They are easy to maneuver and can be used on almost every part of the body. Smooth rollers will provide an even pressure against your body. These rollers are also usually less expensive than other types. Pick a smooth foam roller if you are new to foam rolling or are looking for a gentle massage.

        Bumpy foam rollers are designed to press into your muscles, releasing knots and tension. They step up the intensity level and let you focus the pressure onto specific problem areas. You should use a bumpy foam roller if you have multiple trigger points that need extra attention.

      • Length

        The length of your foam roller will determine where you can use it and how much surface area it will cover. Find out below which one is right for you.

        Short vs. Long

        A short foam roller will be easier to control as you get the hang of releasing your muscle tension. These rollers are perfect for the calves and arms. They will take up less space and are easy to travel with. However, if you need to work on a very small area of the body we recommend using a massage ball to get the best control.

        A longer foam roller will give you more stability and cover a larger area. Making it more ideal for targeting lower back pain. They are best if you’re looking to work on your hamstrings, glutes, shoulders, or quads. 

      Take Precaution When Foam Rolling for Lower Back Pain

      Integrating foam rolling exercises into your lower back pain treatment plan is an easy, medication-free way to reduce soreness and work out muscle knots. Lower back pain is typically caused by the connecting muscle groups, so working the areas we suggest can help you find relief. We always recommend talking with a physical therapist before starting any new stretching or rolling regimen to determine what exercises are best for your condition. If your pain worsens or persists you should seek medical attention.

      Patty Weasler, RN
      Patty Weasler, RN

      Patty Weasler is a freelance health writer and nurse. She is certified in critical care nursing and has been practicing for over 10 years. Patty lives in Milwaukee, WI with her husband and three children. She enjoys spending her time with family and educating people about their health.

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