Whether you have low-back pain from spending too many hours sitting, sore muscles after exercising or general stiffness that comes with aging, you can use foam rollers to massage away pain, improve your muscle tone and increase your flexibility.

For decades, foam rollers—sometimes referred to as the “poor man’s masseuse”—have been widely used for pain management in physical rehab clinics.

Now: Lightweight, inexpensive rollers made of high-density plastic foam are increasingly being used to perform self-massage at home.*


Roller self-massage stretches and tones muscles and increases circulation, especially in the muscles and areas being worked on. Revved-up blood flow means more nutrients reach muscles and other tissue…and helps promote faster and better breakdown and elimination of waste (such as lactic acid) that builds up in muscles, causing aches and stiffness. Roller self-massage also helps relieve pain by breaking up bands of knotty, tight muscles, especially in the shoulders and neck.


Foam roller self-massage is done primarily on the floor and is best performed on a low-pile carpet or yoga mat. Commonly used round rollers vary in length from one foot to three feet and typically have a diameter of six inches. If you are a beginner, start with a softer roller, which will be marked on the package. A firmer roller is a good option for a competitive athlete.

You can purchase rollers at most sporting-goods stores and discount stores, as well as online at sites like www.Amazon.com, Isokinetics, Inc., 866-263-0674, www.IsokineticsInc.com, and Power Systems, 800-321-6975, www.Power-Systems.com. Cost: About $9 to $25. Power Systems also sells a guidebook.

Important: People who take blood-thinning medication, have heart, vascular or chronic pain conditions, or have arthritis or osteopenia (low bone mineral density) should be sure to consult a physician before trying roller self-massage. Those with thin, fragile skin, significant scarring or surgical incisions, osteoporosis or balance problems that put them at risk of falling should not perform roller self-massage.


For a good introduction to roller self-massage, try the following three moves three times a week with a day’s rest in between sessions. When practiced regularly, these moves will help relieve back, shoulder and leg pain. This regimen can be completed in about five to six minutes.

1. Upper back roll. Purpose: Massages back and shoulder blade muscles, stretches shoulder and chest muscles, and strengthens core muscles.

What to do: Position the roller across your back, about where a woman’s bra fastens. Lie back on the roller with your head and shoulders elevated and fold your arms across your chest. Bend your knees at a comfortable angle, plant your feet firmly (about a foot apart) and lift your hips off the floor. With your body supported by the roller and your feet, roll slowly forward and backward over the tight and sore muscles of the mid-back. Make sure that you hold your neck straight and in a comfortable position. Repeat five to 10 times.

2. Calf roll. Purpose: Massages calf muscles.

What to do: Sit on the floor, and stretch out the leg you will be rolling. The other leg is bent at the knee with the foot resting on the floor. Place the roller mid-calf under one leg. Rest your hands palm down on the floor just behind your bottom for support, and lift your hips so that your body is supported on your hands and the roller. Slowly move the roller up and down your calf five to 10 times. You can add a small side-to-side roll to loosen tight spots.

3. Glutes and hamstring roll. Purpose: To release tight areas in your glutes (buttocks) and hamstrings (backs of the thighs).

What to do: Sit with your buttocks on top of the roller. Slowly roll back and forth on any tight spots in the glutes, then slowly roll from one buttock down to the knee, pausing on any tight or sore spots and rolling back and forth. Repeat on the other buttock/leg. If you have knots in your muscles, rather than rolling back and forth, try to hold still on that spot for up to 60 seconds.

*Check with your doctor before performing roller self-massage.