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Foam Roll TFL | How To Release TFL Tension

Foam Roll TFL Muscle

The TFL (Tensor Fasciae Latae) is a tight, bulb-like hip flexor muscle on the side of the hips. TFL can hold a ton of tension and make things like running, walking, and even sitting uncomfortable. This post is about how to foam roll TFL and release it of tension to help you quickly walk around pain-free.

 

Why Foam Roll TFL?

The TFL muscle can collect a ton of tension throughout weeks, months, or even years. It will hold this tension until it is massaged or stretched out, and it can be painful until it is successfully released.

Foam Roll TFL Muscle - Anatomy

TFL Muscle

What Causes TFL Tension?

1. TFL is an essential muscle in walking, jogging, and running - so excessive time moving on the feet can cause the TFL to be strained or become overworked. TFL tension can develop over months or years, and it is made worse without ample attention paid to stretching, massaging, and recovery.

2. TFL shortens when we sit. As with all other hip flexor muscles, TFL tension can simply come from excess sitting in chairs for months, years, and decades.

Foam rolling the TFL muscle is one way to release it its constant tension - a tension that potentially causes a lot of pain and discomfort.

What Does TFL Pain Feel Like?

Foam Roll TFL - Pain Pattern

TFL Pain Pattern (left) and TFL Muscle (right) [1]

TFL pain can be described by the left portion of the image above. Keep in mind that when foam rolling the TFL, we want to massage the actual bulb muscle and not necessarily where the pain pattern is felt.

 

How To Foam Roll TFL

1. Placement

Before foam rolling the TFL, we need to find the muscle - and this is easiest to do standing. The image below has the thumb right in the TFL for reference.

Placement For Foam Rolling TFL

Placement For Foam Rolling TFL

When standing, shift the weight to one side and feel the other-side TFL muscle relax. In the image above, the weight is on the left leg (from the guy in the image's perspective), and the thumb is digging into a relaxed right TFL. If the weight is shifted back to the center or towards the right, you should be the TFL contract and become hard.

You should know you are on the TFL because it usually feels really good to massage, especially if it is tight. It could be tender to touch if it is severely tightened as well.

2. Foam Roll TFL

Now that we know where the TFL is and what it feels like, we can get down to the ground and start rolling it out.

Place the foam roller perpendicular to the body, and orient yourself in the position shown below. You may need to play around with an exact position to foam roll TFL, because it may fight you and stay contracted in the wrong body position. We want TFL to relax so it is primed for a foam roller attack.

Foam Rolling TFL

From here, roll up and down with the grain of the TFL muscle fibers. Depending on the tenderness of the TFL and your sensitivity to massage, it may feel nice to put more lean into the TFL on the foam roller and less weight on the arms and feet.

I like to roll the TFL muscle for 90-120 seconds on each side, and sometimes longer if it feels nice and productive.

 

A Deeper Alternative To Foam Rolling TFL

Foam rolling TFL may not be deep enough of a massage. A foam roller is relatively flat, and a more pointed massage is often required. To illustrate this - if a massage therapist were to work your TFL muscle, they would use their thumbs and knuckles, not the palm of their hand.

There are a few tools that can get into the TFL more nicely than a foam roller. The best option we have found is the QL Claw, which essentially has a therapist's knuckle on the end of a stable block. This is going to get into the TFL and break up its tension like no other tool.

QL CLAW

In addition, you may have more luck with a massage ball, lacrosse ball, or golf ball on the TFL due to their more concentrated massage. The rolling of the balls may prove TFL massage to be difficult, but it will likely be more effective than using a foam roller.

 

Sources:

[1] Donnelly, Joseph M. Travell, Simons & Simons Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: the Trigger Point Manual. 3rd ed., Wolters Kluwer Health, 2019.

[2] Davies, Clair, and Amber Davies. The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief. 3rd ed., New Harbinger Publications, Inc., 2013.

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