Foam rollers. We likely have been told to use one. Many of us may own one. These worm-like cylinders are found at many clinics, gyms, fields, and courts where you will find people half-lying on the ground and rolling around on them. But what exactly does this form of self-myofascial release technique do to your body? And how does it impact your performance in sport, exercise, and every day activities?

Let’s break this down into three parts: flexibility, muscle performance, and post-exercise.

 

FOAM ROLLING FOR FLEXIBILITY

There have been various studies conducted to explore the effects of foam rolling in relation to range of motion (ROM) of a joint. All studies concluded that there was a significant increase in ROM following a foam roll intervention. However, it is important to note that the increase in ROM was found to be temporary – the duration of the increase varies based on the joint and controls used (duration, technique, and cadence of rolling). Another interesting find is that when combined with static stretching, foam rolling will create a greater change in ROM in comparison either foam rolling or static stretching on its own; nonetheless, the changes from the interventions remained temporary.

MUSCLE PERFORMANCE

The big question is: does foam rolling prior to exercise enhance your performance? Various studies have been conducted to measure the effect of foam rolling on activities such as isometric strength, vertical high jump, broad jump, shuttle runs, and bench press. All three studies concluded that the use of a foam roller did not show any significant difference in muscular performance.

POST-EXERCISE DOMS

Can foam rolling help with delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)? In short, yes; here’s what they found. Following exercise that induced muscle damage, three different studies found that foam rolling reduced the subject’s pain levels and increasing pain thresholds post-intervention. However, similar to the changes in ROM, the duration of which the reduced pain levels and increased pain threshold last are temporary, only lasting up to 30mins post-intervention.

 

So how does this change the way you use or view using a foam roller for self-myofascial release? Foam rolling will by no means single-handedly “fix” any injury or performance deficit you may have; it may, however, help with temporarily increasing your range of motion, decreasing your pain levels, and increasing your pain threshold to enable you to be able to move more with less restrictions, allowing you to complete exercises or activities through more range and with less pain. Though foam rolling does not positively or negatively influence your performance, it may temporarily alter your perception of pain without affecting performance, allowing you to participate in the activity or exercise.

Achieving your goals will always come down to your work ethic and diligence when it comes to your rehabilitation or training. Instead of thinking of foam rolling as something that will get rid of your knee pain, beat your 100m dash time, or hit that new personal best in the gym, think of it as an adjunct to all your rehab or training – a tool in your toolbox.

 

Reference:

Cheatham, S. W., Kolber, M. J., Cain, M., & Lee, M. (2015). THE EFFECTS OF SELF-MYOFASCIAL RELEASE USING A FOAM ROLL OR ROLLER MASSAGER ON JOINT RANGE OF MOTION, MUSCLE RECOVERY, AND PERFORMANCE: A SYSTEMATIC REVIEW. International journal of sports physical therapy, 10(6), 827–838

 

Written by:
Priscilla Bulandres
Registered Physiotherapist

Alpha Health Services Physiotherapist Priscilla Bulandres