The foam roller is a fantastic piece of equipment to have in your exercise toolbox. It can be used for muscle self-massage, spinal mobility exercises, stretching and as a tool to make many basic strength exercises more challenging.
What does the research tell us about foam rolling? Most research to date looks at foam rolling as a massage tool, and suggests that there are many benefits to its use:
Pain: Foam rolling your muscles changes what is called our ‘pressure pain threshold’ – in other words, how much pressure is needed before we interpret the pressure as pain. In the right setting, reducing muscle hypersensitivity by foam rolling may allow improved ease of movement.
Recovery: There is some emerging evidence that foam rolling of each muscle group for a minimum of 90 seconds can reduce the severity of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).
Performance: There is no good evidence to either support, or refute, foam rolling in regards to power, reaction time or speed. So using a foam roller pre-performance is a personal preference.
Fatigue: There is some evidence to suggest that foam rolling prior to exercise lessens an individual’s perception of fatigue after exercise.
Flexibility: Foam rolling has been shown to improve short term flexibility, but these changes do not last more than 10 minutes. The reason being that foam rolling doesn’t change the physical properties of muscle or fascial length. Short term improvements are instead likely due to changes in our neural system.
If you’re using your foam roller at home, there are a couple of rules that you should follow. Firstly, you don’t need to torture yourself! Use a pain scale of 4/10 as your upper limit. The movement should also become easier as you progress through the exercise. And lastly, if you have any concerns about your prescribed foam roller exercises, please give us a call.
Cheatham, S. 2018. Does roller massage with a foam roll change pressure pain threshold of the ipsilateral lower extremity antagonist and contralateral muscle groups? An exploratory study. J Sports Rehabilitation. 27(2): 165-169.
Healey, K et al. 2014. The effects of myofasicla release with foam rolling on performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 28(1): 61-68.
Hughes GA, Ramer LM. DURATION OF MYOFASCIAL ROLLING FOR OPTIMAL RECOVERY, RANGE OF MOTION, AND PERFORMANCE: A SYSTEMATIC REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2019;14(6):845–859.
Format: Wiewelhove T, Döweling A, Schneider C, et al. A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Foam Rolling on Performance and Recovery. Front Physiol. 2019;10:376. Published 2019 Apr 9. doi:10.3389/fphys.2019.00376.