A common question I get from patients, from younger athletes to weekend warriors, is if there is a benefit to foam rolling. Foam rolling has been in the athletic world for a long time and is still growing in popularity. So there must be something too it right? Many people I know swear by it and won’t leave a workout before foam rolling. But how does it help? Is it effective? Is foam rolling right for you?
First of all, although there is growing research on foam rolling and many theories, we still don’t know how it helps. One theory attributes the benefit of foam rolling to a myofascial release. Or a stretching/loosening of the chains of muscle and fascia that interconnect throughout your body (fascia is a stocking like casing that surround your muscles). Studies suggest that this loosening can improve flexibility in the short term (for a workout as an example). However these myofascial connections are strong and it is unlikely that a person can produce enough force with foam rolling to break it up. Another, and perhaps more convincing theory, is that the deep pressure of foam rolling stimulates your nervous system. This nerve stimulation results in improved blood flow to the area as well as a reduction of stress hormones that can increase pain. This improves flexibility and pain tolerance which can only help performance. However dosage is important. Those that only foam rolled for 30 sec did not see results. However those that roll 30 sec for 3 sets saw the benefits.
So should I start foam rolling? ….Maybe. Foam rolling does need some direction, however there are a ton of youtube videos that can guide you. But remember foam rolling isn’t the only technique to improve flexibility and reduce soreness after a workout. Massage is one option. Also a combination of active cool down and static stretching can have the same if not better results.
Foam rolling may improve pain tolerance, however it is not the cure all for pain. If you are having consistent pain with or after activity it may be time to check with your physician or a trusted PT to address your complaint.