As you age, you lose elasticity in your joints and connective tissue—and suddenly, you can end up feeling pain while completing the simplest of tasks, like walking up the stairs. Research shows that a massage can reduce stiffness and soreness by more than 40%. But we found an even better (and cheaper!) way to banish aches: a foam roller.
Many trainers and physical therapists call this inexpensive, long tube their secret weapon against pain. Similar to an old-fashioned rubdown, using a roller breaks up fibrous tissue and boosts circulation so you're less sore. You can use a low-density roller for a gentler massage, or opt for a higher density roller for a more intense one.
The following routine, designed by Michelle F. Schwahn, a physical therapist and personal trainer, relieves muscle tension and pain in just 10 minutes. Tack it on to the end of any workout and you'll start to feel looser right away. Bonus: Because you contract muscles when you hold each position, you'll also strengthen each area as you stretch. Now, that's a reason to get rolling!
Routine at a Glance
What you'll need: A carpeted space and a foam roller (either 6- by 18-inch or 6- by 36-inch is fine).
Frequency: Do the moves at least 3 times a week to reduce stiffness and tone muscles.
How to do it: Begin each move by lying with a part of your body on top of the foam cylinder, then roll slowly in both directions until you find a tender spot. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds, or until you feel the muscle relax, then continue down the length of the muscle until you find another knot; repeat 3 to 5 times.
Make it easier: Do the moves on your bed for less-intense pressure.
To Soothe Back Pain:
Lie faceup with foam roller horizontally under upper back (below shoulder blades), knees bent, feet flat and hands behind head. Tighten abs and press into feet, lifting hips slightly to slowly roll from upper to middle back. Find a tender spot. Hold, release, and repeat.
From this position, bring foam roller under lower back, with knees bent and arms out to sides. Contract abs and tilt slightly to left to target muscles along left part of back. Still tilted left, press into feet to roll back and forth from midback to top of hips, stopping when you find a sore spot. Hold, release and repeat. Switch sides, tilted slightly to right.
TIP: For a deeper back stretch, lift your hips.
To Loosen Tight Hamstrings and Calves:
Sit with right leg extended, roller horizontally under upper thigh, left knee bent, foot on floor, and hands behind you for support. Slowly roll down from buttock to knee, stopping when you find a tender point. Hold, release and repeat.
Bring roller under calf, keeping hands behind you. Slowly roll from just below knee to ankle, stopping when you find a sore spot. Hold, release, and repeat. Switch legs and repeat.
To Release Tight Hips and Butt and Soothe Sore Knees:
Lie on left side with roller under left hip, right leg crossed in front, foot flat. Support upper body on left forearm, right hand on hip, with head in line with spine. Press into right foot and roll down side of leg from just below hip to above knee, stopping when you find a tender point. Hold, release and repeat. Switch sides.
To Ease Pain in Thighs:
Lie facedown with thighs on top of roller, wrists under shoulders. Contract abs and lift, controlling movement with shoulders, hips, and core muscles. Roll between hips and knees, pausing over sore spots, then hold, release and repeat.