Indiana University

Skip to:

  1. Search
  2. Breadcrumb Navigation
  3. Content
  4. Browse by Topic
  5. Services & Resources
  6. Additional Resources
  7. Multimedia News

Foam rollers can help ease aches and pains from exercise, a desk job

Wouldn't it be nice to have a masseuse on hand after runs or at the office to smooth out aches and pains from sitting so much?

Foam Roll

A foam roller can help ease aches and pains from sitting too much.

Print-Quality Photo

A foam roller, a firm cylinder of varying dimensions, could be a useful and cheaper alternative, particularly for runners and others coping with pesky IT band soreness and office workers who have sore back muscles because of poor posture.

Foam rollers, said Amy Bayliss, assistant clinical professor of physical therapy, combine traditional stretching and massage. Used properly, they can help increase muscle length and massage the fascia, the soft yet strong connective tissue throughout the body that surrounds muscles, nerves and blood vessels. Massaging the fascia, often called myofascial release, may help muscles function better, decrease muscle fatigue from over-exercising, increase range of motion and reduce soreness.

Bayliss, with the Department of Physical Therapy in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, recommends these two moves:

  • For aches in the mid to upper back: Massage the thoracic region of the back by lying back onto the roller so that it is perpendicular to the body and placed roughly where a woman's bra strap would cross her back. Lift the hips off the ground and arch backwards slightly, but keep the head and shoulders off the ground. Roll just a few inches above and below the bra strap line. If the foam roller feels too firm, a pool noodle can be helpful. Bayliss said sitting too much at work can often result in tight chest muscles, which also can contribute to back pain. This move helps stretch and loosen chest muscles, as well.
  • For iliotibial band syndrome, often called IT band syndrome: Massage the outside of the thigh, where the strong, fibrous IT band is located, by placing the foam roller on the floor and rolling the outside of the thigh briefly over the roller, from just below the pelvis to just above the knee. All of one's weight can be balanced on the roller or the foot on the opposite leg can be placed on the floor to reduce some of the pressure. IT band syndrome is caused by the inflammation of the IT band, a thick band of tissue that runs from the hip to the outside of the tibia, or shin bone, just below the knee. The IT band works with other leg muscles to stabilize the knees and is a common cause of knee and hip pain in runners, cyclists and other athletes.

Bayliss said the self-massage should not last more than three minutes on any one spot and she cautions against rolling over bony parts, such as the knees, because this could put too much pressure on nerves, such as the common peroneal nerve that runs around the outside of the knee and fibula. She also said big bruises, sprains and strains should be avoided because the self-massage could make them worse.

Foam Roll

A foam roller can help ease the pain of IT band syndrome

Print-Quality Photo

Is it supposed to hurt?

"Yes, there will be some discomfort," Bayliss said, "but you don't want to go above 5 on a scale of 1-10. You can adjust your body weight to ease the discomfort."

Foam rollers come in different lengths, firmness and diameters and can be purchased at popular retailers and sporting good stores. The firmer a roller, the more aggressive the massage.

To read more articles from the Department of Physical Therapy in IUPUI's School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, visit