Foam rolling or self-myofascial release is a common technique that is used to reduce the sensation of muscle soreness. It is most often performed by placing a foam roller on the ground and rolling a particular muscle out using your bodyweight to compress the tissue. This has been used extensively in the past decade as a form of muscle recovery pre or post workout.
Is foam rolling all its hyped up to be?
I have recently come across some not-so-hot reviews on foam rolling and its effects on muscle recovery and performance. Before coming to any conclusion, I decided to consult the latest research.
Here is a short list of the potential Pros and Cons of foam rolling to help you decide for yourself:
• Foam rolling can apply excessive pressure to the tissue. Too much pressure can cause muscle and nerve cells to rupture. Foam rolling with small diameter rollers or lacrosse balls can exceed tolerable cell pressure (1).
• Foam rolling will not break down scar tissue. Scaring is produced by strong fibrotic connections between cells that can withstand forces produced by self-myofascial release techniques.
• Foam rolling has little effect on increasing mobility and may even increase pain in the process.
• Rolling can speed up recovery. Extended foam rolling sessions can increase blood flow to the area and enhance nutrient exchange and clearing of cellular debris.
• Reduces inflammation and causes draining of lymphatic pooling.
• Foam rolling may have minimal positive effects on sprint times and overall athletic performance (2).
• May increase proprioception (joint position sense) immediately prior to exercise (3).
• Foam rolling releases tightness. Sustained external pressure stimulates the nervous system to decrease muscle tone.
Remember, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are tons of information out there on foam rolling, some good and some not so good. Much of the research I read showed conflicting results making it difficult to draw conclusions. Here is a list of my best recommendations:
• Keep it light! Gentle-moderate pressure will generate positive stimulus without causing cell damage.
• Target specific areas of muscle stiffness to enhance recovery and decrease muscle tone.
• Foam roll after your workout to decrease inflammation.
• Supplement foam rolling with stretching, corrective exercises, muscle activation and soft tissue therapy techniques.
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1. Gonzalez-Rodriguez, D., Guillou, L., Cornat, F., Lafaurie-Janvore, J., Babataheri, A., de Langre, E., … & Husson, J. (2016). Mechanical criterion for the rupture of a cell membrane under compression. Biophysical journal, 111(12), 2711-2721.
2. Miller, K. L., Costa, P. B., Coburn, J. W., & Brown, L. E. (2019). THE EFFECTS OF FOAM ROLLING ON MAXIMAL SPRINT PERFORMANCE AND RANGE OF MOTION. Journal of Australian Strength & Conditioning, 27(01), 15-26.
3. David, E., Amasay, T., Ludwig, K., & Shapiro, S. (2019). The Effect of Foam Rolling of the Hamstrings on Proprioception at the Knee and Hip Joints. International Journal of Exercise Science, 12(1), 343-354.