Foam-roller use is relatively new, and so there isn’t a lot of research to back up theory. A foam-roller is intended to stretch and massage soft tissue. In theory this can reduce pain by stretching the myofascia (the connective tissue surrounding muscles and bones). By using a foam-roller, you are applying a Self-Myofascia release. It can ,in theory, aid recovery and improve flexibility.
So, we know how it works in theory, but what evidence is there from research? Does foam rolling really work?
It is early days in terms of research, but yes there is some strong evidence that it can help.
There is some research (1, 2, 3) that suggests foam-rolling exercises can improve flexibility (a temporary increase in range of motion). All of the research showed significant increases in flexibility following foam-rolling. There is no conclusive evidence that foam-rolling will improve your long term flexibility, but if it offers a temporary improvement, this would be an ideal time to also stretch!
Research (1, 2, 4) also suggests that foam-rolling can improve recovery by reducing DOMS (Delayed onset muscle soreness). This means you may feel less pain in the 1-2 days after training/competing when muscles often feel sore. You may recover quicker from training sessions.
Great. It works. But….how much is too much? How often should you foam roll?
Well, there is very little research into protocols for foam-rolling. There has not been research into the most effective frequency, sets or reps. Foam-rolling can be uncomfortable, and certainly rolling every day has the potential to bruise the soft tissue.
With lack of research, it would be sensible to not foam-roll every day. 2-3 times a week would enable you to release soft tissue. Follow this up with a stretch, and your flexibility can improve!
Important note! There should be caution when using a foam-roller. It should not be used in people with diabetes, peripheral neuropathy, Deep vein thrombosis (DVT), or Osteoporosis.
Useful exercises for foam-rolling
A general foam-roller session to the legs should include calfs, hamstring, quadriceps, and Gluteal muscles. A massage ball can also be used for gluteeal muscles and the feet.
All video’s are provided, with permission, by our patient exercise programme provider, Rehabmypatient.com
Glutes (spikey massage ball)
Plantar fascia (Spikey massage ball)
These exercises are general leg exercises, and are for flexibility. If you are injured, you should consult a qualified professional.
Remember- everyone is different, and all injuries are different. This article is for information only and does not constitute advice for your injury. You should consult a qualified therapist to accurately diagnose and treat your injury. You can book in with one of our experts at The Treatment Lab by calling us on 01908 766425.
1 Frieweld, J. et al., 2016. Foam-Rolling in sport and therapy- Potential benefits and risks. Sports Orthopaedics and Traumatology. 32(3). 267-275.
2 Beardsley, C. & Skarabot, J., 2015. Effects of self-myofascial release: A systematic review. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. 19(4). 747-758
3 Halperin, I. et al., 2014. Roller massager improves range of motion of plantar flexor muscles without subsequent decreases in force parameters. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. 9(1). 92-102.
4 Pearcey, G.E. et al., 2015. Foam roller for delayed onset muscle soreness and recovery of dynamic performance measures. Journal of Athletic Training. 50(1). 5-13.
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