Foam rollers—you’ve probably seen these cylinders in the gym or being used by athletes on the sidelines of a game. Did you know that they may be just the thing you need to ease your neck strain?
Foam rollers have become a popular way for people to treat muscles with self-myofascial release, or self-massage. Experts think they work by increasing blood flow to the muscles and alleviating soft tissue adhesions, sometimes referred to as muscle "knots" or "trigger points."
An analysis of 12 high quality studies found that massage can provide short-term pain relief for those with idiopathic neck pain, compared with standard care.1
Foam rolling is specifically to relieve muscle pain, so if you have neck pain that’s caused by a problem such as degenerative disc disease or arthritis, check with your doctor before you attempt using a foam roller.
Tips for foam rolling safely and effectively
If you’re ready to try foam rolling to ease your neck pain, keep these tips in mind:
- Foam rollers should be used on muscle, not bone or joints. Avoid using it horizontally on your neck, directly over your spine. Instead use it vertically, rolling out from either side of your spine.
- Slowly roll the foam roller until you find a tender spot or trigger point. Then apply gentle, steady pressure to that spot until pain subsides, but no longer than 60 seconds.
- Foam rollers should cause slight pain or discomfort as they release muscle knots, but not severe pain. If you feel sharp or stabbing pain, stop immediately.
- Avoid using a foam roller on your lower back, since back muscles are rarely the cause of low back pain and foam roller may make other low back conditions worse.
- Because muscle knots in your neck or shoulders can be hard to reach, you may find that a theracane or trigger point massager works better for you than a foam roller.
Combined with stretching exercises, physical therapy, and medication, foam rolling can be a simple and effective way to relieve neck pain.
See Neck Stretches
- “Massage Therapy for Neck and Shoulder Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013; 2013: 613279. Published online 2013 Feb 28. doi: 10.1155/2013/613279