The Top 5 Areas to NOT Roll Out

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Rolling out with a foam roller and lacrosse ball or whatever other apparatus you like can be helpful. You have to know what you are trying to do and why. It's also important to know that anatomy includes things like nerves, organs, blood vessels, etc. It isn't just bones and muscles in there.

For example, if I was rolling out, my intention is to get muscles to relax and improve my range of motion.

My goal isn't to push hard on nerves or push into organs. So I have to make good decisions for myself and avoid certain areas of rolling out with certain objects.

As a great rule of thumb: Just because it hurts to push on something doesn't mean you should always be pushing on it.

Does it hurt to push on my eyeball? Yes. So should I be pushing on my eyeball? No.

Does it hurt to push on a nerve? Yes. Should I push really hard on a nerve because it hurts to push on a nerve? No that would be stupid.

So here are my Top 5 Areas to NOT Roll out and why and alternatives:

1. The Side of your neck behind your collar bone


Why do I not like rolling here?

You have muscles called your scalenes that are in this area and your first rib, which is why people are trying to roll in here in the first place. But you also have a lot of nerves. Nerves that are big and lay right on top of your first rib. If you push in that area, it is unavoidable that you will be influencing nerves. Are you going to push in there and be able to avoid all the nerves? No. Is there another way to work on the muscles in this area without irritating the nerves? yes.

What to do instead

If you feel that you need to work in this area, I would use my finger tips and lotion to gently work on the muscles of the neck. There is, in my opinion, no benefit from pushing really hard in this area. You aren't going to break up scar tissue in your neck with a stick and the risk of poking too hard in here does not outweigh the potential benefit that you wouldn't just get from using lotion and rubbing on the neck muscles.

2. Armpit


Why do I not like rolling here?

There is a particular area in your armpit where there isn't a lot of muscle coverage and you are likely going to push on the nerves as they travel under your collar bone and into your arm.

There are also some muscles that do frequently need work in this area, like your lats, teres major, teres minor, and subscapularis. Those are worth pursuing. You'd need to know the anatomy well to get into those muscles without pushing on the sensitive structures you should be avoiding.

What to do instead

If you stay lower down on your rib cage versus way up into the armpit, you'll be better off. I'd also consider using a more blunt vs sharp object, like a foam roller instead of a stick. If you use a stick in this area, it is higher and more pinpoint pressure. I think there is good reason to be working in this area as many of the muscles around the shoulder can need a bit of work, but you should definitely avoid really tender spots high in the armpit. Not a lot of muscles there. Stay in the meat.

3. Between your Biceps and Triceps


Why do I not like rolling here?

Not a lot of muscle in this area between the biceps and triceps. There are your median and ulnar nerves, skin, bone, and some connective tissue. But there isn't a lot of meat here. It will definitely be sensitive and weird to put pressure here, but don't misinterpret that as some trigger point that needs to be worked out. You are pushing on structures in this area that you'd be better off just leaving alone.

What to do instead

Roll in the meat of your biceps and meat of your triceps.

4. Your Abdomen


Why do I not like rolling here?

We just don't have a reason to push sharp and/or heavy objects into the abdomen. The pursuit of the hip flexors through your intestines with a heavy object is not something I could recommend to someone. I actually interviewed an abdominal surgeon a few years ago about the idea of rolling out your hip flexors, which you can find here.

Now you can (and many people do) make the argument that you can go a little lower down in the abdomen and hit the iliacus muscle and that is probably a bit better of an idea if you feel that it is necessary (still not something I want to recommend to TMF readers).

What to do instead

In my opinion, people are getting benefit from this by relaxation of the abdominal muscles and stimulation of the nerve endings in the superficial abdominal fascia. I'd prefer using something like a medicine ball and roll over the top of it. This will affect those structures without deep, blunt pressure into the abdomen.

Need more hip and low back mobility? Start with Day 1 of our Hip/Low Back Mobility Program for free:

5. Back of your knee


Why do I not like rolling here?

Just above the back, middle part of your knee is where your sciatic nerve splits into two branches, your tibial nerve and common peroneal nerve. The tibial nerve continues down the back of your knee and the common peroneal nerve travels around the back outside corner of your knee and then into your lower leg.

The common peroneal nerve is nerve the fibular head and easily compressed here. Definitely an area to avoid rolling out, even though it would be tender to roll out.

The back of the knee has arteries, veins, nerves that you should just leave alone.

What to do instead

Roll out the calf and the hamstring instead, focusing on being in the meat.

In Summary

Remember why you are rolling out, what structures you are trying to affect, and what structures you aren't trying to roll out.

Decide if there is a better way to achieve your goal that doesn't involve direct, focused pressure on structures other than the muscle mass.

Don't read this article and think you are a fragile piece of glass. Just use the information to make good choices. You aren't going to roll out on something and shatter, there are just better ways of doing things.


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