Aches and pains after training routines or a grueling event can present a major obstacle for even the most dedicated athletes. When we push our bodies to the limits, they respond with soreness, tenderness, inflammation and tension. These setbacks are sometimes negligible and do not impede on our progress. But sometimes, painful aches can be discouraging to the athlete who wants to get back up and try again, or even be signs of injuries.

Athletes with aches and pains from tight muscle knots benefit from myofascial release – or, as it is more commonly known, deep tissue massage. But the financial burden and time drain of a professional massage makes regular trips to the spa impractical, especially when you’re trying to squeeze in a good workout before work or a quick run before dinner.

Incorporating fitness into your lifestyle means not only pushing your body to its limits but taking good care of it.  Foam rollers are a simple solution to tackling the muscle stiffness that slows us down, and provide a great source of TLC – tender loving care – after a long workout. A foam roller is a cylinder of dense foam that can assist you with your pre- and post-workout. Picture a supercharged pool noodle that is only a foot or two long, and rock hard. They are generally inexpensive, compact, lightweight, safe, and easy to find at your nearest sporting goods store.

After a good workout or a marathon, the foam roller is placed beneath the limbs or back. Slowly, you “roll” your sore muscles over the foam roller – about an inch at a time. The body’s weight acts as the pressure, and you yourself have control of the area of effect. In short, regularly using a foam roller after workouts is like having personalized deep tissue massage every time. You only work the affected area – say, sore calves or a stiff back, and it breaks up the knots and alleviates the stiffness.

Many people who have used foam rollers for self-administered Myofascial Release agree – at times, rolling can be painful. This is because the rolling process activates trigger points, or tight muscle knots that can radiate pain across the area. This is a natural feeling and a natural result of loosening deep muscle knots. Many liken the discomfort to that of a deep stretch – it hurts, but in a good way!

You can also use foam rollers before a workout in order to move more loosely and prevent injury. By incorporating foam rolling into your stretching routine, you can really prepare those muscles so they are at their most flexible during your running, swimming, cycling, or lifting. Much like pistons to an engine, your muscles need a good warm-up and smooth movement in order to work correctly.

Use caution and common sense with foam rollers, especially when working the neck muscles – professionals may be better equipped to help with neck pain. And, as with any new exercise practice, it’s a good idea to consult with a doctor before you dive in head-first. Proper use of foam rollers can not only alleviate pains associated with workouts, but also prevent injuries by keeping the body flexible.