After a workout or fitness class it’s common for people to reach for a foam roller to apply deep pressure into their muscles. Used by athletes and fitness enthusiasts, foam rolling is now the most popular form of ‘self manual therapy’ due to its low cost and its widespread availability. While many praise their effectiveness, there is still great debate amongst practitioners and researchers in the medical field regarding their efficacy and effect on the body.

There is sufficient evidence that demonstrates consistent foam rolling will increase muscle flexibility, improve range of motion and well as reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Performance boosts following foam rolling, however, are still being researched and how they work on the body are still being uncovered.

Rolling your muscles on the dense roller positively affects both the muscles, fascia and joint receptors. Fascia is described as a soft tissue wrapping that runs throughout the body and forms a continuous structure of support. It surrounds organs, muscles, bones, and nerves. Mechanoreceptors are small receptors found under the skin that have a direct impact on the tension and tone of the muscles.

Simply put, foam rolling is a form of self release that helps reduce muscular tightness and restriction that limits range of motion & blood flow. Manipulation and distortion of the tissue on the roller will make it more pliable and will stimulate the receptors that affect muscle tightness.

More research is needed to better understand how foam rolling truly works, however, research suggests that it can provide a strong and immediate impact on your body when performed correctly.

Practically, foam rollers should be used as a warm up prior to exercise and a cool down following intense activity, but can also be used when you feel tight & stiff when waking up from sleep or after a long work day. Rolling is most effective in large muscle groups such as the glutes and quadriceps, but is also helpful for small muscle groups like the calf and shoulder. Based on current research, the recommended frequency and duration of foam rolling is as follows:

  • 3-5 sets of 20-30 second repetitions, or a total of 90-120 seconds
  • 3-5 times per week to retain long term improvements in flexibility

The evidence supporting the use of foam rollers has grown substantially in recent years and is indicating the use of this modality yields improvements in flexibility, performance and recovery. Rolling is a safe and effective tool to stay loose, maintain overall health and wellness and should be included in your regular mobility routine. It is also important to recognize that the foam roller itself can be used in a variety of ways, not only to roll out tight muscle. Its shape and density can be used to your advantage to perform activities that would otherwise be difficult on the floor, bench or yoga mat.

Check out the video below to see my favorite activities to do with a roller!

Article by Dr. Dylann Craig Germann, physical therapist at Eleven Eleven Wellness Center and owner of Impact Physical Therapy. If you are experiencing shoulder, neck or upper back discomfort and want to learn more, contact Impact Physical Therapy at (516) 603-9024 or email at ImpactPTNY@gmail.com.

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