A foam roller – what is it good for?

We are always looking for ways that our patients can engage with their care and control it wherever possible and this is where the foam roller comes in.

One of the most common tools we recommend using is the foam roller.

So, what’s going on when I am use a foam roller?

There is some discussion in this area.  Some call it a myofascial release, but others say that is takes more than a foam roll to release the fascia and muscle and that it is an ineffective bit of equipment.  We like to think of it as a self mini-massage and have seen (and experienced) really good results with people using a foam roller, so we are ‘for’ it. 

For a while there was not much evidence to support foam rolling even though, anecdotally, there was considerable success.  More recently there have been some studies that have looked at the effects of foam rolling.  One study published last year in the Journal of Athletic Training.  It took 8 men and made them perform 10 sets of 10 back squats at 60% of their 1 repetition maximum.  This created delayed onset muscle soreness.  So, the muscle soreness you get after you work out.  They performed these exercises twice at different times.  After one set they had the participants used the foam roller immediately after they lifted.  They then repeated this 24 hours and 48 hours afterwards.  The participants did 2 rounds of 45 seconds on their quadriceps, adductors, IT bands, hamstrings and glutes.  Not surprisingly, here was a significant difference in muscle tenderness for those that foam rolled after.  The data showed that there were also favorable changes in performance for those that foam rolled.  Including faster 30 m sprint times, increased broad jump distances, decreased time on a T-test and also better dynamic strength control.

There have also been a couple of other studies (Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, Journal of Sport Rehabilitation) that confirm the findings in the previous study.  They show that foam rolling paired with static stretching can help improve range of motion.

So, while this doesn’t explain why foam rolling works it does show how it works.  If you foam roll the muscles, they are less sore to the touch and able to perform at a higher level.

When should I use my trusty foam roller?

Foam rolling should ideally be done prior to and after the event.  However, it is also a great adjunct to use on off days.  If you can recover faster, you can perform activity at a higher frequency.  This can be done with more intensity which can lead to faster outcomes for patients and improved performance for athletes.

You ought to get one!

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