Feeble excuses. As a veteran fitness pro (15 years and counting), I have heard them all. From “It’s just not comfortable” to “I haven’t yet had my ibuprofen” (affectionately referred to by my clients as “Vitamin I”), I could draw you a map to procrastination and self-sabotage. However, when it comes to painful knees and other joints, none are more serious; and luckily, none are easier to remedy.

Too often my clients consider going under the knife, convinced that their knees have been rendered dysfunctional. Of course, there are instances where this is the truth. However, more often than not, the use of this one, simple fitness component provides an effective (and anesthesia-free) solution. Let me introduce you to the foam roller.

If you are already in the habit of picking up that odd-looking apparatus, you know of its benefits. More and more fitness facilities are catching on and purchasing foam rollers for their gym members. This innocuous cylinder of foam sitting in the corner can do amazing things and will soon become your favorite tool.

Foam rolling, or self-myofascial release technique, has been a staple in professional athletics for years.

The more that is learned about the way our muscles communicate with each other and about the healing process, the better we can treat our active body. The myofascia system includes our muscles and the connective tissue that resides just below the skin, which then connects the muscles to our blood vessels and nerves. When the myofascia system becomes injured or inactive, our movements and range of motion become restricted. Engage foam roller.

Think of foam rolling as taking your grandmother’s rolling pin from the kitchen and kneading out the knots and ropes wreaking painful havoc in your muscles. Our muscles pull in toxins such as lactic acid and the normal waste created by our cells’ activity. When these toxins accumulate instead of circulate, the muscles become irritated and inflamed. Foam rolling “breaks up” these muscles and any present scar tissue to encourage circulation and release toxins, thus promoting healing and better function in the muscle.

I’ll be the first to tell you: it is not a spa treatment. In fact, as soon as an unsuspecting client finds their Iliotibial Band (IT band) in contact with the roller, their face morphs, nearly unrecognizable from their painful realization.

Don’t shy away yet, though. Pain is a language our body speaks. In most cases, painful joints and muscles signify a problem and warn us to stop whatever it is that we are doing to them. In the case of foam rolling, however, pain is gain. Find the spot that hurts the most to gain maximum benefit.

Knee pain or sensitivity oftentimes result from an imbalance of strength among opposing muscle groups (inner/outer thigh). If one, in this case the IT band, is the stronger of the two, those muscles over time will shift the alignment of the knee just enough to cause discomfort while doing things like climbing stairs, driving, or riding a bike.
When you combine a strengthening program to find a better balance throughout the body with foam rolling to break up some of that built-up tension, the relief proves long-lasting.

You can find foam rollers in various colors, sizes and firmness. I recommend finding a professional version with as much firmness as you can tolerate. The softer rollers do tend to wear out sooner, but might be a good place to start.
Costs range from $15-$40.
You can use this technique before your workout, after, or a bit of both.
Be sure to ask a professional to show you how to get the most out of foam rolling. The most important factor is consistency. Why wouldn’t you implement something so easy, inexpensive, and readily available to you?
So how about it Denver; let’s get rolling!


  Jodilyn Stuart is the owner of ModaBody Fitness and has been a fitness professional since 1997. She has recently begun contributing to 303 Magazine as a fitness writer.