foam roller

Hurts So Good!!

Foam rollers, “The Stick,” lacrosse balls, and tennis balls are all common tools used for self-myofascial release (a.k.a., giving yourself a massage). Anyone who has ever used any of the above tools for self-myofascial release has a love-hate relationship with it. Even though it hurts so badly while you’re doing it, it feels so good afterwards. The most common of the above tools is the foam roller; you see them lying around most fitness gyms, physiotherapy clinics and sports team locker rooms. For years clinicians and trainers have been using self-myofascial release with their clients, but only recently has research started to look at what  it actually does and does not do.

Cheatham et al., (2015) recently published a systematic review on the effects of self-myofascial release using a foam roller to help support its use in clinical practice. Their findings are outlined below:

1. Range of Motion

All examined studies demonstrated that foam rolling improved one’s range of motion, with increased benefits if it was followed by a static stretch of the same muscle group.

Most studies had parameters of 30 seconds of rolling for 3 sets, followed by a 30-second stretch for 3 sets/muscle group.



2. Post-Exercise Muscle Recovery and Reduction of Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness (DOMS)

Subjects used the foam roller as a cool down method for two 60-second sets following a strength training workout in order to induce DOMS. Their results showed that foam rolling had the following benefits vs. no foam rolling:

  • decreased subjective pain levels;
  • improved vertical jump height;
  • improved muscle activation;
  • improved joint ROM;
  • Improved sprint speeds

3. Muscle Performance

Subjects used the foam roller as part of a warm-up session for 30 seconds on each major muscle group before completing testing in isometric strength, vertical jump height, vertical jump for power and shuttle runs. Unfortunately, there was no significant difference for any of the testing parameters for the group that used the foam roller vs. no foam roller during the warm up. However, the foam roller group reported less fatigue following testing.

Take home message:

  • Foam rolling will increase flexibility and range of motion, if combined with a stretching program;
  • Foam rolling after high-intensity exercise will help diminish DOMS and pain levels;
  • Foam rolling does not alter muscle performance, but may reduce fatigue when used as part of a warm-up session.

If you want to know more about foam rolling or self-myofascial release, please ask one of the Sheddon Therapists. You can contact us at (905) 849-4576.

Cheatham et al. (2015). The effects of self myofascial release using a foam roll or roller massage on joint range of motion, muscle recovery and performance: A systematic review. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. Nov; 10(6): 827–838.

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