3 Reasons to Foam Roll Your Quads
Gymnasts, Dancers, Runners! Have you ever had questions about foam rolling, why it’s beneficial and how it can be utilized in your area of performance? Lucky for you we’ve got some great advice coming up. Sit back, relax, and read through our 3 Reasons to Foam Roll Your Quads!
If you are more of the visual and auditory learner just click the YouTube video below outlining everything that is in this article!
We often see that there are certain conditions whether or not you’re a runner or an active adult in the gym hitting your squats and your deadlifts where you constantly feel your quadricep muscles are tight. We also see this a lot in our performing artists, our dancers and gymnasts, who get these growing pain injuries due to shortness or tightness in the quad muscles that is pulling on the bones that are growing and they’re doing repetitive jumping activities. These are the reasons we want to really discuss foam rolling!
What are some of the things that cause tightness in the quad muscles?
Anyone who’s active, anyone who’s working out, you use your quad muscles and you use them ALOT. We use them for running, we use them for getting up and sitting down in a chair. We use them for going up and down stairs. If you’re working out in a gym, you’re constantly strengthening your quadricep muscles. So if you’re consistently doing this and not necessarily counter acting it with some mobility or flexibility work, you can get that sensation that your hips or thighs are tight.
Let’s talk about the anatomy of the Quadricep muscle group really quick. There are four muscles that make up the Quadriceps (hence the name QUADricep). The four muscles are the Rectus Femoris, Vastus Medialis, Vastus Lateralis, and Vastus Intermedius which is deep to (or underneath) the Rectus Femoris. These muscles primarily act to extend the knee. The Rectus Femoris crosses this hip joint, so this muscle assists in flexing the hip. As the Rectus Femoris assists in the flexing the hip, it can become tight and this can cause that feeling of having “tight hips” in the front of your hips. Tightness in the front of your hips can be a risk factor for the conditions we’re going to discuss a little later.
As a runner every single step you take on that pavement, you’re contracting your quadricep muscles. So think about how many steps you take while you’re out there for your run. If you’re contracting and contracting and contracting, without doing the proper mobility work to help loosen them up, they may begin to shorten over time. If you really didn’t work out or practice consistently at your activity, you likely wouldn’t have tight quads. However, because you’re an athlete, you use those muscles a lot so they can get tight. This is really the reason your quads can get tight..
Because you’re using your quad muscles a lot during your sport!
What Does Foam Rolling Actually Do? Why does it hurt so good?
Let’s talk about what it doesn’t do. We know that foam rolling doesn’t break up scar tissue, it does not break up connective tissue. The reason we feel looser when we foam roll and the reason it “hurts so good” is because you are stimulating your nervous system. You’re adding a stimulus into your nervous system and you’re also increasing blood flow. There’s been small research studies that look into the effect of foam rolling.
So, we do know that it improves blood flow and can enhance recovery as most people feel pretty good after foam rolling. After foam rolling, people feel good and then they’re able to actually work out harder or practice better because they feel better. You’re able to perform at your best capacity because you feel better!
It’s not so much that we’re trying to loosen up scar tissue, connective tissue or really even stretch for that matter, but it’s to stimulate your brain to send signals to your muscles! You can utilize foam rolling to facilitate muscles. Facilitating muscles is something you would want to do before your workout or run. Foam roll specific muscles prior to run spending no more than 30 to 60 seconds foam rolling that specific muscle group. You should not be foam rolling for a half hour or 45 minutes prior to exercise. If we’re looking to contract those muscles during exercise, we do not want to do a long session of foam rolling to inhibit those muscles prior to exercise!
How can foam rolling help you with your pain?
So, what are the reasons we prescribe foam rolling? We focused on quadricep foam rolling today and the most common reason for this to be prescribed to a patient is knee pain. There a couple conditions as to why quadricep group foam rolling would be prescribed, the first being Patellar Tendonitis, or Patellar Tendinopathy which is pain in your patellar tendon. The patellar tendon connects to your quad muscle and then attaches to the tibia. There are specific treatments that will be utilized to address the tendon itself so we can load the tendon and build up the strength and resiliency in that tendon. However, improving the neuromuscular stimulation, nervous system input into the muscle belly itself can be extremely helpful. Especially if you have tight quads! There are muscle length tests we can do to assess if someone has tight quads and if we find there are tight quads, we’ll add some quad foam rolling in before we really work through the focused treatment on the patellar tendinopathy.
The next condition we want to discuss is in our young dancers and gymnasts who can get this growing pain that is associated with knee pain, specifically where the growth plate is still open in the knee in these adolescent individuals. The tibial tubercle is the bump below your knee cap and that can cause symptoms such as Osgood Schlatters Disease. With Osgood Schlatters Disease, you can develop a big bump over the tibial tubercle from repetitive jumping or running. This usually happens in the 13 to 15 year old age range. In the younger dancers and gymnasts, anywhere from 9 to 12 years old, we can get pain at the growth plate in the knee called SLJ, Sinding-Larsen-Johansson or Jumper’s Knee. This condition is not as common but we do see it in younger athletes! These individuals are repetitively jumping and loading and contracting their quadriceps. The quadriceps are going to pull on the bone when they contract and since the growth plate is still open, this repetitive stress can cause pain specifically at the growth plate. One of the things we want to do is decrease the irritation of the soft tissue complex pulling on the growth plate that’s still open and being irritated. We want to treat the actual muscle belly itself. This is where we’ll want to introduce foam rolling of the quadricep to loosen up the muscle and reduce the stress being put on the growth plate. This is called soft tissue care. This is where we’re treating the soft tissue, and it’s not so much the soft tissue is actually what’s causing the pain, but if we treat the soft tissue, it will reduce the stress on the bone.
The last condition to discuss that quad foam rolling will help with is low back pain! This is especially true if you get most of your pain from standing for long periods of time or when you’re bending backwards. This is more common for our instability patients – we’re thinking about our gymnasts here who get pain with backbends, pain with bridges and back walkovers, it’s likely that they have tightness in their muscles anteriorly like their hip flexors and, as we talked about earlier, the Rectus Femoris crosses the hip to assist with hip flexion, so foam rolling the quads will assist in alleviating some of that tightness that is contributing to the low back pain. By foam rolling the quads we can alleviate some of the stress on the spine.
These are the three most common conditions that we see in our active adult runners, and our dancers and gymnasts that foam rolling can assist with!
Have you seen other medical providers in the past that just tell you to stop your activities or sports?
We have a unique treatment approach that focuses on solving these problems with our clients.
Our goal is to help keep you active while recovering from injury by staying in the studio, gym or on the road and guiding you in ways to modify your training, rather than eliminating your activity!
We combine manual hands-on techniques with guided supervised exercises to help you get stronger, pain-free, and perform at your peak level to get you back doing what you love.
The SPARK Physical Therapy Commitment
If you’re in the greater Hamden Connecticut area and have been dealing with injuries we can help. We’d love to chat for a few minutes and see if you are a good fit for what we do. Fill in the contact request and we’ll set up a free 15-minute phone consultation with a doctor of physical therapy
Thank you for taking the time to read,
– Duane Scotti, PT, DPT, PhD, OCS
A special thanks goes out to Allie Eldridge, SPT for her contributions to this article
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