Mobility Work and Foam Rolling for Fascial Release FAQ – How Long, How Often, Should it Hurt or Bruise?

So you bought yourself a shiny new foam roller or lacrosse ball (or other mobility tools), or maybe you’ve had these for a while…but you’re not sure you’re doing things correctly, or enough, or maybe you’re wondering if you’re OVER doing it?

The video has it all, but here’s a recap of my 5 tips for the best self fascial release sessions:

1. How OFTEN should you be foam rolling?

This is fairly personal, or individual – meaning some people will need more while other people need less. I’m about to give you some guidelines, but no matter what I tell you I encourage you to LISTEN to your body, because it will tell you how much is enough (and the other 4 tips today will help you know what it’s telling you).

Generally speaking, for fascia health maintenance (meaning, there’s nothing ‘wrong,’ you’re not working on an injury or pain pattern) I suggest 2-3 times per week. If you just loooove your foam roller and want to do more, by all means do more.

If you ARE working on recovering from an injury or using fascial release to get yourself out of pain, then you could go after your target areas ONCE PER DAY for a week or two. Max. You do NOT need to do twice a day – if you do, chances are you’ll get pretty sore.

You certainly do not need to do your entire body every day.

2. Should you feel sore or get bruised doing this work?

The short answer is NO.

If you were in my office getting worked on by me I’d tell you that about 1 in 30 people get sore (even though what I do is FAR more intense than a foam roller or lacrosse ball). Given I’m not in your living room or gym with you and can’t control what you’re doing or HOW you’re doing it, chances are greater with self work that you might get a little sore from this.

If you’re doing things CORRECTLY, you should NEVER get sore OR bruised.

If you ARE getting sore, here are some things to check:

  1. Are you using a super hard or knobby roller? That can often cause soreness or bruising. I recommend starting with a SOFT foam roller, and maybe you’ll stick with that forever. You can work up to a harder roller but I never ever recommend the knobby ones for fascial release work.
  2. If you’re using a lacrosse ball, are you digging it into your tissue trying to give yourself a deep tissue massage? If so, you can definitely get sore or bruised. To do this correctly you want to PIN an area of your body TO the lacrosse ball (often needing to use your other hand to hold it steady) while another part of you moves. You’re trying to pin and stretch/release the fascia, NOT dig into it.
  3. Are you spending too much time on one spot? This can often make you sore – see tip #5 for more on this.

Regarding BRUISING:

I do not endorse or advocate that bruising is a good thing UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. It’s not the end of the world if it does happen, but in my private practice I avoid it at all costs (and only 4-5 people have ever bruised from my work since 2008 and it was only in small areas like the tops of the feet). I want you to avoid looking like you’ve been beaten up too! This is my personal and professional opinion and I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who disagree with me, and that’s ok.

Here’s why I feel so strongly about this:

A BRUISE – meaning, a red, black and blue or yellow/green spot – is a soft tissue injury called a contusion. What causes the discoloration are small capillaries and blood vessels that have BURST and spilled their blood into the surrounding tissues. Those capillaries and blood vessels are DAMAGED. Thankfully, our body has a brilliant way of dealing with this by sending in hormones to contain the bleeding and heal the damaged tissue, so a bruise isn’t something to freak out about. However, the reason I want you to avoid bruises is because even IF you are creating some good through whatever method caused the bruising – you’ve also caused some (or a LOT) of damage. Inflammation is likely to occur, and if it’s a really bad bruise it might hurt so much you won’t want to be as active (which sucks), or it might take as much as a week or two to heal fully.

I’ve been using my body weight (sometimes all 145lbs of me) stepping on people since 2008, and soreness and bruising are NOT common. It is NOT a necessary part of healing fascia.

3. Should it hurt?

Yes. And no!

Healthy fascia won’t hurt when weight or compression is applied. Compressing and releasing unhealthy fascia can be very intense. There’s a big difference between good pain and “bad” pain…this should be the good kind.

The intensity comes from the fact that the fascia is dehydrated and brittle, it’s lost its SPRING and cannot absorb the weight applied to it, so the fascia, muscle and bone are all having to take the weight…and then, unsticking those fascial fibers from one another is extremely intense!

Once released, when the fascia has its SPRING back, none of this will hurt because the fascial system is absorbing impact/weight and the fibers aren’t stuck to one another anymore.

Most of us have unhealthy fascia to varying degrees. The more work you do to get your fascia back to a youthful healthy state, the less it will hurt and the less you need to do to keep it that way.

Fascia work goes through 4 phases with release work:

  1. Sucks a LOT – this is when your fascia is the unhealthiest.
  2. Sucks a lot LESS – this is an indication that your fascia is getting healthier.
  3. Feels kind of…GOOD?! This indicates fairly healthy fascia. And yep, when it’s healthy this will work will feel REALLY GOOD, like a massage.
  4. Feels like NOTHING – this is when your fascia is at optimal. You can’t go past this point. The healthiest fascia has ZERO sensation when weight is applied, not even good sensation (which is almost a bummer!)

The more work you put in initially, the less work you’ll have to do later on.

4. Will releasing the quads and IT Band EVER feel good?

I have to laugh at this one…because I wish I could give all of you out there the opportunity to feel what it’s like to have me (or my super muscly personal trainer apprentice Jason!) stepping on your quads or IT Band. The foam roller would feel like a nice massage in comparison 😛

For MOST of you, yes…even the quads and IT Band will eventually feel good, or like nothing. This just takes regular work and time, and it depends on how much you’re using your quads in your life and sports.

If you’re a serious athlete who is very quad dominant, like a cyclist or ultra trail runner, then you may need to give your quads and ITB some daily love, until one day (and it will probably take you by surprise) it doesn’t suck.

If you want to come to Colorado I will happily jump start the process for you! 😉

Smaller areas will begin to feel good a lot sooner, like your forearms, biceps, calves etc. And eventually it will ALL feel good!

5. How long should you spend on each SPOT?

I saved this for last because it’s super important!

If you’re using MY techniques (or some other form of pin/release/stretch method for fascia) and you’re doing them CORRECTLY, you only need to spend 20-40 SECONDS on each spot. MAX. That’s it!

This is why I’m always encouraging you to spend a little time learning how to do each technique correctly, that way when you’re going through your routine you will only need to spend a minute and a half (ish) on each body part.

Every body part will be a little different. Bigger areas such as the quads and IT Bands may have 3-5 spots for you to work. Smaller areas like your forearms or biceps might only have 2-3 spots.

Again, you want to cultivate a relationship with YOUR unique body, because you may be different than your spouse or running buddy or me.

And keep in mind that our bodies change throughout the year as well, depending on our seasonal lifestyle and sports.

That’s a wrap!

I hope this helps you figure out what to do with your mobility tools. If you have questions that I haven’t answered here, please comment on the blog or Facebook page, or feel free to write me via email.

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  • Caroline Tonder says:

    My quads are so tight that I have had real difficulty walking without them and my glutes reacting into pain and spasm .I love your instructions about the hip flexors which are extremely helpful and the foam roller relieves some pain for a short time . Therefore I feel I need to do more if I am to make progress… but you say only a few minutes every other day . I have been in pain for over a year and I think your advice is the most relevant so far but any other guidance would be so appreciated. I am 73 and so wanting my active life back .

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