Foam Rolling – Does this really work?


As I looked at my foam roller this morning after a run, I thought to myself, does this really work? Is there any scientific research for this and will it help anything?

So i did some research and came to a conclusion. Simply, yes, 60-90 seconds of foam rolling on certain muscles does work in terms of A) increasing joint range of motion without decreasing muscular performance and B) decreasing muscle soreness after a work out and the associated hit to subsequent workouts.

What is a foam roller?

A foam roller is a hard cylinder of foam which is usually used on thigh muscles but can be used on many different muscles all over the body. You apply the foam to the body by lying on it – you can adjust your body weight to get the right amount of pressure for you (see links to helpful YouTube videos at the bottom of the page).

The mechanism

The mechanism of how this works has been researched and a consensus has been reached that it works on the neurological system. The brain responds to intense pain by turning off the pain receptors. It does this because if you were had your limb chopped off, being in intense pain would stop you getting to safety. So the brain turns off the painful feeling to improve the likelihood of survival.

Secondly, foam rolling may not break down adhesions in muscles and physically lengthen them as some people believe. However it will improve blood circulation to the muscles.

One common mistake that people make is that they roll painful areas. This won’t help because A) the area in question is inflamed and B) the painful area may not be where the pain is originating from. For example, ITB (iliotibial band) tightness is usually coming from contracted gluteals or the lower back.

A lot of people are saying not to foam roll the ITB at all. Their consensus is again, that ITB tightness is due to gluteal tightness. However, many people have experience direct benefits from foam rolling the ITB and experience far less knee pain after.

The science also says that foam rolling calves work better than stretching them before a work out, in terms of increasing range of motion of the ankles without effecting muscular performance. This is important for squats and other activities such as dance.

In terms of hamstrings, foam rollers don’t really do much for them. A roller massager is your best bet and it allows you to apply more pressure and hit some tender spots.

So to summarise, yes foam rollers work. Make sure you use them correctly! Personally, I’m going to keep rolling rolling rolling (sorry)

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