Is Foam Rolling Really That Good?

It is cheap and affordable, easy to use, and is time-efficient (compared to a normal massage), but does foam rolling really work?

Many people go out and buy foam rollers as they are told it helps to relieve tightness, minimises delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), increases range of motion and helps performance. But do these anecdotal statements have any truth behind them?

Foam rolling has become common practice in all sports settings both pre- and post-workouts. It is used by many athletes to increase the effectiveness of training, improve competition preparation and for post-exercise recovery.

What is foam rolling?

What is foam rolling?

Foam rolling is a form of self-massage which is applied by the foam roller device to the target musculature. Essentially, the person uses their body weight to apply pressure through the foam roller device to the targeted musculature through a rolling motion.

Theoretical benefits of foam rolling include:

  • reduced tissue restriction
  • altered tissue stiffness
  • improved joint mobility
  • pain relief
  • increased blood flow
  • Improved mood and wellbeing
  • better recovery from injury

So far, the evidence supporting these theories is mixed. A recent study found that pre-rolling had a positive effect with short-term improvements in flexibility without decreasing muscle performance. This study also found improvements of sprint performance associated with pre-rolling as well as an increased rate of recovery of speed and strength following an injury.

Many physiotherapists recommend using foam rollers to help improve joint mobility and decrease stiffness, but also know that this is not a “cure”. Until you know and address what’s causing the lack of mobility in the first place, your injury or discomfort is unlikely to fully resolve just by foam rolling. This is why a lot of scientists disagree with the importance of foam rolling as the benefits are temporary.

It should also be noted that foam rolling is not appropriate for every person, injury or situation. In fact, foam rolling can make some conditions worse. For example, foam rolling a calf tear too soon can result in irritation or further tearing of the muscle. Individuals who have certain nerve or skin conditions, varicose veins, lymphoedema or low bone density should only use foam rollers after seeking advice from a professional on how to use one safely for their specific condition.

So what’s the verdict?

Foam rolling exercise for shoulders

Here at Trilogy Physiotherapy we do use foam rollers and are happy to teach you how to use one safely to accomplish what you desire. We don’t however use it as a stand-alone treatment modality and will always strive to get to the bottom of why you have the injury or discomfort in the first place. Together we can then work toward solving the issue.

For us, even though the benefits are temporary, it’s still beneficial. If you’re in a lot of pain and can’t sleep why wouldn’t you try a quick foam roller stretch to help you out? Even though that’s temporary, that extra sleep you get is very much worth it. And if doing mobility exercises on a foam roller before a gym workout helps decrease stiffness through your shoulders to help reduce your risk of a rotator cuff injury, what’s wrong with that?

Plus, there are loads of proven psychological benefits to massage. Research suggests that giving yourself a massage with a foam roller can have similar psychological benefits to receiving a massage from a therapist. Now, we are not suggesting that foam rollers should completely replace a trained therapist’s soft tissue work, but a foam roller can definitely be beneficial in between visits to the physio or massage therapist.

We feel as though the debate comes in when people try to give too much credit to the foam roller itself whereas we like to view it as just another tool in the toolbox to help maintain the body. The bottom line is foam rolling is not going to magically cure an injury or a long-term mobility issue on it’s own. You’ve got to get to the bottom of the cause, you have to make sure you’re using the roller properly for your particular body and situation, and you’ve got to get the frequency and duration right as well. Once all of those pieces come together you have yourself an excellent maintenance tool to help keep you feeling great!

So is foam rolling really worth it?

Yes, when used as a tool in combination with other things such as strength training, rehabilitation, and professional soft tissue release.

If you would like more information on how to properly use a foam roller BOOK NOW to see one of our experienced Physiotherapists. They are very keen to help you roll smarter, not harder!

Read more….

To learn more about prehab vs rehab, check out our blog HERE
To learn more about returning to exercise after injury, check out our blog HERE
To learn more about why we stretch, check our our blog HERE

Wiewelhove, T., Döweling, A., Schneider, C., Hottenrott, L., Meyer, T., Kellmann, M., Pfeiffer, M., & Ferrauti, A. (2019). A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Foam Rolling on Performance and Recovery. Frontiers in physiology, 10, 376. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2019.00376

Healey, K. C., Hatfield, D. L., Blanpied, P., Dorfman, L. R., & Riebe, D. (2014). The effects of myofascial release with foam rolling on performance. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 28(1), 61–68. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182956569

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