How to Use a Back Roller to Relieve Back Tension

Back tension and back pain are real issues.  In fact, it is a leading reason for missed work and that back pain relief is a $50 billion dollar industry in the United States. A popular and effective way of treating back tension is using a back roller.

Why do we have so much back pain?

The back is a complex body part.  There are muscles, ligaments, bones, joints, and discs.  And the back is used in posture, exercise, physical labor, walking, and sitting.  Therefore with so much use, it can be prone to injury.

Back pain is more common as people age and in those who are physically inactive. And if your job requires heavy lifting, a lot of core movement or you sit at a desk all day, you might develop back pain over a period of time.

Back pain can also be symptom of a more serious problem such as: arthritis, cancer, and internal organ issues.  Always consult with your doctor to rule out disease before starting a recovery program.

Whether a dull ache or a sharp pain, you back pain will impact your quality of life.  A back roller might be a solution for you.

What is a back roller?

A back roller is a piece of equipment used for foam rolling your back.

What is foam rolling?

Foam rolling is technique called self-myofascial release.  This means that you are using the mass of your body to apply pressure from a foam roller in order to release tension in the soft tissue of your muscles. This soft tissue, or fascia, is found everywhere: around nerves, organs, muscles, and bones.

If fascia is damaged it can restrict range of motion and cause serious pain. Back rollers can provide tension relief and extend the range of motion in your back if used correctly over a period of time.

What should I consider when shopping for a back roller?

First, consider size.  The three common sizes are:

  • Small (12 inches long)
  • Medium (18 inches long)
  • Large (36 inches long)

If you travel a lot, go small.  But for your home use and for most back sizes, a large size will work best.

Next, think about density of the foam.

  • A softer foam will be cheaper, warp faster, and over time become immobile.
  • A more dense foam will feel more intense when you use it, but it will last a lot longer and provide a more helpful massage.

Finally, you need to look at the design.

  • Common design is smooth and cylinder shaped.
    • Pros: Intense massage with longer lasting relief
    • Cons: Can be painful.
  • Beginner design has knobs on it and still cylinder shaped.
    • Pros: Less intense for beginners & can reach smaller muscle groups.
    • Cons: Can take longer for affects to take hold.

Here is one of our favorites from King Athletic.

How do I use the back roller?

The back roller is often used for three major areas: lower back, upper back, and sides of your back.

Lower Back Roller Exercises:

A common cause of lower back pain comes from tight hip flexors.  You might find a smaller roller more helpful here.

  1. Lie on your stomach and place the roller under one of your hips.
  2. Put your other leg out to the side and knee bent.
  3. Lift your upper body with your forearms flat on the floor.
  4. Extend the leg that has the roller under it, toes pointed.
  5. Start rolling up and down.
  6. Go slow and try to identify where you feel the most tension.
  7. Spend some time (25 seconds) going over the most tenuous place.
  8. Switch sides.

Next you’ll want to flip over and take care of your glutes.

  1. Sit on your foam roller.
  2. Place your hands behind you and bend knees at a 45 degree angle.
  3. Cross a leg over the other so that the one ankle is on the outside of the other knee.  You might need to straighten the bottom leg to accomplish this.
  4. Twist your core just slightly in the direction opposite of how your leg is crossed.
  5. Roll up and down and identify tenuous spots.
  6. Spend 25 or so seconds applying pressure to these spots.

Upper Back Roller Exercise:

  1. Place your mid-back on the roller.
  2. Put your arms behind your head or on your chest.
  3. Roll until the roller is on your upper back.
  4. Roll back to the original spot on your mid-back.
  5. To increase intensity, elevate your hips and contract your abdomen.

Side Back Roller Exercise:

Your side back can become tense if you are hunched over a lot, do a lot of yoga, or exercises popular in CrossFit programs.

  1. Lie on your side.
  2. Lift yourself up and place the roller 6 inches below your armpit.
  3. Keep your bottom arm extended and inline with your body.
  4. Put your top arm out in front of your body for stablization.
  5. Roll up and down slowly.  Identify tenuous spots
  6. Concentrate on tenuous spots for 25 seconds.
  7. Switch sides.

How Often do I Foam Roll?

Many people use a back roller everyday.  You can consider it part of your stretching routing.  And like stretching, you can use the back roller before and/or after a workout, a physical day at work, or a day of sitting at a desk.

Make sure you go slow and don’t spend more than 25 to 30 seconds on any tenuous area in a given session.

And, you don’t have to be experiencing back pain in order to use a back roller.  We suggest everyone use foam rollers. There are several preventative benefits and many people find it an easy and comparatively inexpensive option over professional massage.

Final Thoughts

We use our backs every day and all day.  Whether you are experiencing tension or have had a recent injury, or just want to maintain flexibility and muscle suppleness, back roller can be your best friend.

There is a reason why back rollers are common place for elite athletes and those in physical therapy.  The complex system of the back must endure and perform.  By adding foam rolling to your back strengthening program will keep muscles, joints, and ligaments ready for tomorrow.

If you need a foam roller for back pain, check out our top pick, the RumbleRoller. A ton of satisfied customers and it comes with a very reasonable sticker price. Check it out over on Amazon: