(Yes, I know this is a fitness post. I'm SUPPOSED to blog about it here. It's one of my five Fs. Yes, really. Shhhhhh....!)
As long as I can remember, if I've had a really deep night's sleep, I've woken up with a lower back that feels like someone has stretched it all out overnight and then squashed it tight before putting it back in my body. Over the last year or so, it's been more like a generally stiff lower back and then the stiffness has taken longer and longer to go away. You can blame my increased exercise regime for that.
I knew I had to do something but being of limited budget it had to be cheap. I fired up the Google machine and ignoring the warnings of impending death, I happened upon something that provided an option. If I foam rolled the front of my legs (my quads), it should help the stiffness in my lower back.
Thankfully, husband has a foam roller. I hadn't really considered what it was and what it meant but I know that he sometimes faffs around with it for ages when he's been working out. I'd kind of scoffed at what he was doing but I'd heard other mentions of it. So I thought I'd give it a try.
The relief was instant. Whilst I didn't feel it stop the stiffness straight away, I felt fine after rolling my quads but when I stood up, I felt less stiff in the back area and didn't feel stiff the next morning.
I know you're going to ask me now - what IS foam rolling? Well, it's literally taking a cylinder of foam about 15 cm in diameter and using your bodyweight to roll along a muscle. To give it its full title, it's self-myofascial release. The fascia is basically the soft tissue element of the connective tissue surrounding your muscles. Sports massages basically targets these areas too but doing it yourself, with only a foam roll, works out a lot cheaper.
Believe me, it's not an easy option. If you've ever had a sports massage (I haven't but I know people who have), you'll know that it's quite a painful experience. Not searing pain, probably more substantial discomfort. But as you find trigger points, it's often super-sensitive but you have to keep holding the roller there breathing deeply until the point releases. Ow!
If I needed any indication that it wasn't a fluke, my back started stiffening up after I'd not rolled for a couple of days. Since then, I've tried to add rolling different parts of my body post-workout - hamstrings, calves, upper back / shoulder area, and worst of all, the IT band (it runs down the outer front of your thigh) - I am still working up to doing them properly as boy does it hurt! Some sites say you don't need to roll it but it seems to be doing something for me.
I try to do it at the end of my workout if I've got time - as there are a couple of foam rollers at the gym I can use. If not, I do some at home. If I'm really short of time, I roll my quads only - because I know that my back will thank me for it. I'd never really thought that my quads were causing the problem - but I do a lot of squats and lunges so it makes sense really.
The most complete routine of foam rolling I can find (without spending a minute selling you a foam roller) to show you what I mean is here.
Please don't fall asleep listening to the bloke's voice but believe me this is the best!
After rolling, you're meant to stretch and some say it helps you stretch better. Stretching afterwards definitely helps.
Give it a go if, like me, you don't want to turn into a crock holding their back all the time. I know it sounds crazy, but believe me, it works. There are lots of foam rollers around but I'm not going to recommend any particular brand to you - this is not a review post, just me sharing my own experience.