Every serious runner should own a foam roller. We pound our bodies constantly and repetitively, thousands of impacts per mile. The constant work we endure is good for our bodies, but our muscles do rebel a little bit too. That’s where a foam roller comes in.
A foam roller can augment stretching, as with the IT band. Rolling your IT band (in your coach’s opinion) is enough to justify owning your own foam roller.
The iliotibial (IT) band is a length of thick fascial material (somewhat like a tendon, but it’s not a tendon) that goes up the outside of the thigh. The IT band attaches above the hip and below the knee (to the tibia). When the IT band becomes tight—which is common for runners, especially new runners and runners who are increasing their training—the IT band will start pulling on the attachment points. Typically, there will be pain above and/or below the knee and possibly along the IT band on the outside of the thigh. It feels like your knee is injured, but the problem is coming from a tight IT band. IT band syndrome is a common running injury but it is easily avoided with diligent foam rolling. Foam rolling can help keep the IT band flexible and loose, preventing IT band syndrome.
To roll out your IT band, here are instructions from Running Times magazine:
Lie sideways with the foam roller under the side of your thigh. Roll between your knee and your hip bone. Spend extra time on the more tender areas you encounter. Use your top leg and foot against the ground to decrease the force if you cannot tolerate the pressure initially. After a few days of rolling, your IT Band will loosen up and you should be able to tolerate full pressure (feet together off the ground).
DO NOT ROLL OVER YOUR KNEE! This is very important.
Here is a link to a video demonstrating rolling your IT band:
Your coach tries to roll out his IT band at least 5 days per week, 10 round-trip passes each side, and this has helped keep his IT band (mostly) trouble free.
The foam roller can also be used for your quadriceps, calves, and back. The roller can help you stretch and also roll out knots and tears in your muscles and folds in your fascia. Here is a short article on some other uses for a roller:
There are different types of rollers. The cheapest and softest are plain white foam; under heavy use these will break down, and after a while these will be so soft they will not do you much good. Higher density rollers are usually blue (medium density) and black (high density) and will really work your muscles! Different companies also build rollers with knobs and bumps that work your muscles even harder (and more painfully!). Good quality rollers will last a long time.
Good rollers can be found for $20 or so, and that’s much less expensive than getting yourself a massage!
If you are going to be a serious, long term runner…think about getting a roller, and using it regularly! A foam roller is an inexpensive investment in your running health.