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Prenatal Foam Rolling 101

As professed foam rolling junkies, we were curious how our routine should alter during pregnancy. We chat with Kyle Stull, Senior Master Trainer and Education Content Manager for TriggerPoint. With impressive credentials (Master’s of Science in Rehabilitation, a Bachelor's of Science in Sport Management, and a Licensed Massage Therapist with more than 12 years of experience in personal training), Kyle collaborates with leading universities and industry professionals conducting research that provides evidence-based support for TriggerPoint educational material. Here's the scoop on continuing this practice during pregnancy.

Q: What is the key benefit of foam rolling?

A: The number one benefit we see from foam rolling is relaxation. Not necessarily total body relaxation, but we can identify certain muscles that are too tight or too tense, and when using the foam roller the correct way, we can reduce that tightness and tension as well as achieve better movement and mobility.

Q: Does it mimic massage?

A: It depends on how people use it. Unfortunately, the way most people foam roll, it doesn’t. When getting a massage, a licensed and skilled therapist is going to use their hands to feel the tissue and particularly the tension. Then they’ll use a technique in that area to reduce it. Most people, when using a foam roller, will simply roll up and down for a minute or so. That’s why at TriggerPoint we educate about particular programs and techniques so that way we can try to mimic massage as close as possible.

Q: What are the considerations/changes I should make in my foam rolling routine during pregnancy?

A: Great question. First, I want to note that we don’t recommend starting foam rolling just because you found out you’re pregnant. Our rule of thumb is in line with physicians’ guidelines – whatever you were doing athletically before pregnancy, continue (with caution) during pregnancy. Now might not be the best time to try something new.

Some things to consider throughout your pregnancy:
  1. Positioning. Most of what TriggerPoint teaches is body weight compression, but you need to be mindful of this at certain stages. For example, later on in pregnancy, some women experience low back pain, so in the third trimester we recommend leaning up against a wall to reduce how the fetus compresses on the spine. Be aware of positioning when using all foam rolling products and exercises.
  2. Intensity. I know many women train regularly and potentially pretty hard during pregnancy, but they may not necessarily want to try to go into a deep tissue version of foam rolling to match their training.
  3. Intention. We ask women to question, “Are you using foam rolling because you enjoy how it feels for that relaxation benefit? Or are you using foam rolling because you feel tight and you need to stretch?” We want to be mindful of this, especially in the third trimester. At that point, the goal is not to try to increase mobility anymore. We want to let the body be as stable as possible, so that we can prevent any injuries; therefore, some deep tissue rolling may not be the best thing to be doing.
Q: What areas should women avoid when pregnant?

A: The two that are talked about the most are the trigger points on the inner points of the calf muscle and then in the adductor. Both of these points have been known to induce contractions, so as a general rule of thumb, especially in the third trimester, we recommend avoiding those two areas. Additionally, we suggest that now isn’t the time for deep rolling on the foot. However, light rolling can be great especially if there are circulation issues due to added weight on the femoral artery.

Q: It’s important during pregnancy to consistently keep the muscles oxygenated. How does foam rolling assist with this?

A: At a base level, foam rolling increases circulation, thus oxygenating the muscles. The fluid that is transferred through the motion brings oxygen and nutrients to the muscles. We’ve completed research at the University of Texas where we noticed an increase in circulation. Interestingly, we measured an increase in blood flow in areas of the body not rolled. In the study we foam rolled the lower portion of the calf muscle, but were able to see an increase in blood flow up the thigh. This is an increase in circulation of the entire lower limb, which is much more than we were expecting.

Q: How long and how often should I foam roll during pregnancy?

A: A general recommendation, for any athlete, would be a minimum of three times per week. We see pretty consistent results with that number. However, I recommend staying the same with what you’ve been doing. There’s no reason to change your program unless your goals change. For example, let’s say you are training for a triathlon and then become pregnant. If you’re going to reduce your training frequency and intensity, then you’re probably going to reduce the foam rolling frequency.

Q: Are there times of the day that work best? First thing in the morning for a certain routine? As a warm-up or post-exercise?

A: All three of those are great. It really depends on what somebody can consistently accomplish. So, if you are going to do a better job of getting up and rolling first thing in the morning, then we would suggest to roll first thing in the morning. If you do a great job of integrating rolling into your warm up, then make foam rolling a part of your dynamic warm up. This is actually where we see some of the best results because you’re getting good blood flow, increasing mobility, and it’s a great time to plan it into your day. If you hate using it as part of a warm up, then it’s perfectly fine to use as part of a cool down. We see some pretty effective results with flushing out some metabolic waste after a workout. It may not completely eliminate soreness, but it definitely seems to reduce soreness, and it significantly decreases recovery time. The bottom line would be, what is consistent for you? And if you’re addicted to foam rolling, then all three would probably be fine too.

Q: What are a few foam-rolling myths?

A: One key myth is using the foam roller to treat pain. In most cases the painful area is not the actual cause of pain, but the weak link that “broke” first due to another movement problem. A great way to identify the problem area is to do quick assessment (e.g., a squat is a great one to begin with). As you squat, pay attention to how the joints feel—how does the ankle, knee, hip and shoulder feel as you move? If the ankles don’t feel like they can move well then spending a few minutes rolling the muscles of the lower leg may help to reduce some of your back or shoulder shoulder pain.

The second is the “need to knead.” We see athletes who want to get on a tender spot and rock back and forth on that area. One of the best things you can do is just hold pressure on it. We recommend that if you find something that you would rate about a 6 or 7 on a pain scale, then just hold pressure on it and give your body some time to identify what’s going on so it can actually relax.

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