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December 07, 2021 10 min read

Foam rolling exercises for your back can be healing and refreshing. Known as a self-myofascial release technique, foam rolling can safely and effectively relieve tension and tightness, as well as more intense pain in your upper and lower back.

You can use foam rolling exercises together with other healing remedies, such as massage, acupuncture, or hot and cold therapy. 

Red High Density Foam Exercise Roller isolated on white.

What is a Foam Roller? 

A foam roller is a lightweight foam cylinder that you can use to perform deep tissue massages at home. Some of the benefits of foam rolling include the release of muscle knots, relief from inflammation, and improved overall comfort level.

It can also increase your range of motion, flexibility, and mobility.

Furthermore, foam rolling can play a part in boosting your circulation and lymphatic flow. 

Types of Foam Rollers 

The best foam rollers can vary greatly in terms of size and firmness. Different types of foam rollers are sure to bring about different results.

There are soft, low-density foam rollers, which are a gentle choice for beginners or people with a lot of sensitive areas.

There are firm, high-density foam rollers that put more pressure on your body. There are also textured foam rollers with ridges, grids, or knobs on them to target your muscles more deeply. 

Also, travel foam rollers can be used for your arms and calves. Vibrating foam rollers can loosen your muscles, release muscle knots, and enhance blood flow circulation and flexibility.

Heat and cold foam rollers can be heated or cooled to deepen muscle relaxation and ease discomfort. Foam roller balls and foam rolling sticks can be used to target specific areas.

A Few Myths About Foam Rolling Your Back 

Firstly, it can be very bad for you to directly foam roll your lumbar spine with a regular foam roller.

You should select a contoured roller instead during physical therapy. You should only roll your lumbar spine if you have received explicit commands to do so from a physical therapist or a certified personal trainer. 

Secondly, rolling directly on your joints can actually increase your chances of injury.

It puts a stress on tissue that cannot flex the same way muscle does, so this can cause muscle pain and lasting injuries. Rather try to target the muscle groups that actually affect your back and your posture. By relaxing those key muscle groups, you’ll also help your mid-back. Also, always keep your spine in a neutral position. 

Using Foam Rollers to Warm Up

If you enjoy doing  early morning workouts, foam rolling can be one of the best ways to stretch out specific muscle groups and prepare them to start lifting. Keep in mind that to allow your body enough time to recover properly, you should be resting for 24 to 48 hours before stretching the same muscle groups.

Foam Roller Exercises for Your Back 

To relieve any pain and tightness in your back, we suggest doing these exercises three or four times a week. If you are feeling intense pain, wait until you recover fully before using your foam roller again. You can do the exercises on their own or before or after a workout.

You will find that foam rolling can be very effective  in conjunction with full-body exercises. Always be sure to align your body properly on the foam roller and use an exercise mat as a cushion. Come off the foam roller carefully, and wait a minute to relax before repeating an exercise or doing another one. 

Exercise #1: Working Your Upper Back

This stretch can help to relieve muscle tension in your upper back and alleviate the poor posture that can sometimes come from leaning or hunching forward often. The stretch also helps to align your head, neck, and spine. 

  1. Lie with a foam roller under your spine, supporting your head and tailbone. 
  2. Place your feet flat on the floor and bend your knees. Spread your arms out to the sides with your palms facing upward. 
  3. Breathe deeply and relax into this position for up to a minute and repeat the movement up to three times. 

Exercise #2: Improving Your Spinal Alignment 

This exercise aligns your spine and releases muscle knots, tightness, and tension. It promotes excellent posture and it can be especially useful for people who sit for extended periods. Avoid going lower than the middle of your back, which is where your rib cage ends. 

  1. Place the roller horizontally across your upper back, right below your shoulder blades. 
  2. Press your feet firmly into the floor and bend your knees. Interlace your fingers at the base of your skull and lean back. Raise your hips slightly to move the roller up to your shoulders. 
  3. Focus on sensitive areas for at least twenty seconds. First go up to your shoulders and then work your way down to the middle of your back again. 
  4. Repeat four or five times. 

Exercise #3: Working Your Lats 

This stretch alleviates tension in the area in the sides of your back below your underarms. This helps to improve your posture and improve the mobility of your upper body. Rolling out your lats helps out everything from your neck to your spine when you are using the foam roller to ease back pain. Also, this exercise can alleviate stress in your shoulders and upper arms.

  1. Lie on your right side with the foam roller under your shoulder. 
  2. Press your left foot firmly into the floor and keep your right leg on the floor for support. Start just below your armpit and gently roll down to the middle of your back. 
  3. Pause to target any sensitive or sore areas. 
  4. Continue for up to a minute and then do the opposite side. Repeat two or three times. 

You can also lie on your side with the foam roller under your ribs somewhere between the lowest part of your armpit to the bottom of your ribs. Roll up and down from your rib to your armpit. Next, roll forward or backward slightly from the spine to the front of your ribs to find the most tender spot.

Stay there for up to a minute before switching sides. Prop yourself up on your hand, elbow or lie flat. This exercise requires you to be still and breathe, allowing your lats to stretch. The result brings relief to your entire back and shoulders. Count thirty to sixty seconds for up to three sets. 

Exercise #4: Working Your Lower Back 

This exercise relieves any of the tension you might have in your lower back. To avoid the risk of injury, always avoid putting too much pressure on this area.

  1. Lie on your back and place the foam roller horizontally below your lower back. 
  2. Press your feet firmly into the floor and bend your knees into your chest, with your hands behind your thighs or on your shins. 
  3. Gently yield your weight to the right side, raising the left side of your low back off the foam roller. 
  4. Stay in this position for a few seconds. 
  5. Then gently rock to the left side. Keep yielding your weight from side to side for up to a minute, and repeat two or three times.

Exercise #5: Working Your Gluteus Maximus 

Relieving the tension in your gluteus maximus helps to loosen up stiff legs while supporting the strength and stability of your lower back. To support the strength and stability of your lower back, you should focus on relieving tension in your glutes to loosen up your legs as much as possible. 

  1. Sit on top of the foam roller directly under your sitting bones. 
  2. Place your hands behind your hips for support.
  3. Place your feet flat on the floor and bend your knees. 
  4. Move your right ankle to the outside of your left knee. 
  5. Place your left hand on your ankle or thigh, and gently lean to the right, feeling a stretch in your glutes. 
  6. Roll from side to side, focusing on any sensitive areas. 
  7. Hold each area for up to 30 seconds. Then do the opposite side. 

Exercise #6: Working Your Thoracic Roll 

  1. Lie with your upper back on the foam roller and your knees bent with feet flat on the floor. 
  2. Roll slightly to one side of the spine onto the muscle and off the bones, unless you are using a contoured roller. 
  3. Place your hands behind your head and point your elbows to the ceiling to expose more surface area along the spine. 
  4. Roll back and forth between the base of your neck and the bottom of your ribs. If you find any tight spots, keep massaging them for up to a minute. 
  5. Maintain a neutral spine and never bend back over the roller because it will place too much pressure inside the spinal column. 
  6. Do five back and forth movements for up to three sets. 

andsome Athletic Young Man Doing Side Planking with Foam Roller on his Thigh.

Exercise #7: Working Your IT Band 

Your IT band runs from your hips to your knee. As the IT band’s nearby muscles get tight, they pull on other parts of your body, which can sometimes lead to back pain. Never roll directly on your IT band, because it can cause over-elastisticity and injury. Instead, roll your TFL muscle above your hip area. 

  1. Lay on your side until the foam roller is over the side of your hip. 
  2. Slowly roll laterally across this small muscle by leaning side to side. 
  3. This releases the tension that forms in your legs, which also causes your IT band to contract and relax your back. 
  4. Roll to each side ten times for up to three sets.

A Few Bonus Exercises 

Although these next few exercises don’t focus specifically on your back, they work other areas of your body that can also play a part in the amount of back pain you experience, so all of these exercises can also be very beneficial.

Core Strengthening 

This exercise really strengthens your core, which can greatly improve your posture, stability, and alignment. Lie with a foam roller along your spine, supporting your head and tailbone. Rest your arms alongside your body with your feet pressing into the mat and your knees bent. Engage your core muscles as you press your lower back into the foam roller. Lift your right hand and left knee toward the ceiling as you return to the starting position. Then do the opposite side for one repetition. Do up to three sets of about twelve reps. 

Chest Exercises 

Sit on one end of the foam roller and lie down along the length of the roller with your head also supported by the roller. Lift your arms and breath slowly and deeply as you relax your chest and upper back. The goal is to eventually have your hands and elbows touching the floor on either side of your torso.

If you can’t reach, don’t worry, just go as far as your body allows. Keep your elbows bent to 90 degrees and in line with your shoulders. Never roll around with this exercise but simply lie down and breathe. Count thirty to sixty seconds for up to three sets. 

Shoulder Exercises 

There have been studies that show a link between  time under tension and the development of lean mass. And especially because foam rolling can keep your shoulder muscles tense and then relieve that tension, it can be a good way to tone those tight muscles. Start with the foam roller just below your shoulder blades, the side of the roller should hit just below your armpit.

Place your feet on the ground and your hands behind your head. Slowly roll side to side across your shoulder blades. You should be rolling the muscle, not the bones, so make sure your foam roller is pushing into the muscles of your middle back. Roll side to side twenty times for up to three sets.

Do the Sacrum Roll

Start in the bridge position on the floor by keeping your back on the floor with your feet flat and your knees bent. Slide the foam roller under your lower back as you lift your hips. Lift your knees one at a time, keeping them bent. Bring both legs together with your feet in the air. Hold each end of the foam roller for stability and gently rock from side to side. Be sure to keep your knees together. Roll to each side ten times for up to three sets. 

Roll Your Lumbar Area

Be careful if you use your foam roller on your lumbar area. You should never roll over your spine. Carefully roll out one side of your lumbar at a time. Place the foam roller near your lumbar area. Next, get on your side, taking great care to lay on the foam roller on your lumbar muscles only. Next, gently roll up and down to roll out your lumbar spine. Go slowly and never roll over your spine directly. Roll one side ten times and then switch sides for up to three sets. 

How Often Can I Foam Roll My Back? 

As a beginner, we recommend that you start rolling out your back muscles once a day to ease lower back pain. Choose three to five areas to start. Once a week, have a long session of foam rolling where you do each of these exercises. Foam rolling can offer you so many benefits, and it is a perfect way to loosen up tight muscles, relieve soreness, and simply relax.

If you continue to experience pain or if it gets worse, a doctor may recommend a specific type of foam roller and he or she can help you figure out which muscles and exercises you should focus on. The basic foam rolling exercises we discussed above can provide complete back pain relief, but you should be doing the right ones for your specific trigger points. 

Take Caution As You Get Started 

Foam rolling can be painful at first. Pain in a specific area while foam rolling means your muscle or tissue is very tight. Ease into those types of painful spots by starting in the areas right around them and the sensitivity should decrease quite quickly. But, if the pain persists, it is best not to continue until you speak with a physical therapist.

Your muscles can only move so much weight and do so many repetitions of a movement before they start feeling sore, but stretching your muscles with a foam roller can alleviate much of this soreness.

Combine your training with proper rest and recovery, a foam roller, and a high quality protein to ensure muscle repair  to keep your body fine tuned like the highly advanced machine that it is.