If you deal with daily chronic pain like me, you're willing to try almost anything to find relief. Enter the foam muscle roller, which is going to be your new best friend. While searching for the best muscle rollers for chronic pain, it's important to explore different types of rollers so you understand what each one is used for before deciding which one is best for you. In my endless quest for chronic-pain relief, I've tried everything from hanging upside down to floating to cryotherapy. And, in addition to hemp salves, the foam roller is the most effective remedy chronic pain I've found so far.
I only discovered foam rollers a few years ago when Scotland, Ariz., pilates instructor Jen McNeely introduced me to these magical unicorns. Now, I can't imagine living a day without my beloved roller. "It's a form of self therapy that anyone can do," McNeely tells Bustle. "Like a massage, muscle rollers rebalance the nervous system by hydrating connective tissue. They can offer relief from back and joint pain, sore muscles, and headaches." And like massage, all muscle rollers are different and offer different types of relief, which is why it's vital to learn how to use a foam roller properly so you don't injure yourself.
According to Harvard Medical School's blog Harvard Health Publishing, "Foam rollers are ideal for soothing common sore spots like your calves, hamstrings, lower back, and IT (iliotibial) bands, the fibrous tissue that runs from the hip to the knee along the outside of your legs. A roller glides over muscles much like a rolling pin to knead out knots, and it's firm enough to apply sufficient pressure to release tension in deep spots." If you're ready to roll, these are the best foam rollers to relieve chronic pain.
1. Basic White Foam Roller
"White rollers often are ideal for beginners, as they produce less pressure and pain," Erin Krey, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, told Harvard Health Publishing. "Begin there, and then go firmer as you become more comfortable." I started out using one of these, and it's a great intro if you're just getting into foam rolling.
2. Deep Tissue Massage Roller
Using a deep tissue muscle roller is kind of like getting a free deep-tissue massage. These types of rollers can help with myofascial release, which happens by "applying gentle sustained pressure into the myofascial connective tissue restrictions to eliminate pain and restore motion," according to Myofascial Release Treatment Centers & Seminars.
3. Vibrating Foam Roller Deep Tissue Massager
This is just like it sounds, a foam roller that vibrates. McNeely showed me how to use this after I was sore from an aerial yoga class and a steep hike. According to Review Simples, "Vyper is a cutting-edge fitness and recovery foam roller that will help you to pressure focus on specific muscle groups."
4. High Density Supreme Roller
What provides relief for one chronic pain suffer might not help another. Unlike the basic white roller, which is soft, a high-density roller is firm, similar to getting a massage with firm pressure. According to the website Massage Chair Expert, this is a great foam roller for relieving headaches, and chronic pain in the neck, jaw, and back.
5. Soft Density Foam Roller
If you prefer a light pressure during a massage then you'll probably benefit more from a soft density foam roller than a high density one. "It is just right for a gentle self massage and exercising for wonderful and soothing relaxation when you are finished," the Massage Chair Expert noted. "The comfortable roller is gentle for your tight and knotted areas and perfect for lying on. It provides a gentle rolling massage with its soft compression."
6. 2-in-1 Foam Roller
A two-in-one foam roller can offer relief from myriad types of chronic pain, including tight muscles, chronic back conditions, shin splints, lactic acid build up, and migraines. The inner roller is softer, so it's perfect for beginners, and for gently massaging sensitive areas like the neck, according to PowerPro's description of the roller. The outer roller offers targeted trigger-point massage.
"The main theory is that a trigger point (TrP) is a small patch of tightly contracted muscle, an isolated spasm affecting just a tiny patch of muscle tissue (not a whole-muscle spasm like a 'charlie horse')," Paul Ingraham wrote for Pain Science. "In theory, that small patch of muscle chokes off its own blood supply, which irritates it even more — a vicious cycle called a 'metabolic crisis.' The swampy metabolic situation is why I like to think of it as sick muscle syndrome."
7. Muscle Foam Roller
If you have chronic pain accompanied by inflammation, the muscle roller is designed to help reduce inflammation. It also comes with a free e-book so you can learn how to perform foam rolling exercises properly for maximum relief without injuring yourself.
8. Textured Foam Roller
A textured roller is basically like giving yourself a really intense massage. If deep-tissue massage helps relieve your chronic pain, then this is definitely worth a try. It has more bumps and ridges than other deep-tissue rollers, so it's pretty intense. "Just like going to a massage therapist to release deep knots in your back muscles, a deep tissue foam roller is going to have bumps all throughout the roller that are going to act as fingers that dig deep into the connective tissue in your back," Stick With It Yoga explained.
"If you have muscle soreness this type of foam roller will provide immediate relief and increases flexibility with the many different trigger points that come in contact with your back." It's important to note that a textured roller can be pretty painful, so if you're not used to deep-tissue massage you might want to start with a more basic muscle roller and work your way up.
What To Know Before You Roll
If you've never rolled before, and you've tried everything else for your chronic pain, it might be time to embrace this self-soothing option. Ask a fitness trainer, or a physical therapist, to show you how to use a foam roller so you don't create more pain instead of less. You can also watch videos on YouTube that explain foam-rolling techniques for beginners.
"By using [foam rollers] to place precise pressure on troublesome trigger points throughout the body, users often receive relief equivalent to that offered by a deep-tissue massage," North Carolina based Southeast Chiropractic wrote on its blog. "The practice is typically uncomfortable. It isn’t uncommon to feel pain as tension within the myofascia is released or soreness after, but the end result is often relief."
And, my friendlies, relief is what you're looking for. If you have chronic pain, then you know that there is no permanent solution. However, foam muscle rolling is all about progress versus perfection, and any progress in finding chronic-pain relief is like finding a unicorn.