Need to know – Foam Rollers

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Foam rollers are quickly becoming one of the most recognised and used recovery and self-massage tools in the world – and there are SO many reasons why.

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What Is a Foam Roller?

A foam roller is a cylindrical shaped, self-massage tool that aids to reduce muscular and myofascial restriction, general tension, fatigue, and soreness before and after exercise. It can also increase range of motion/flexibility.

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Benefits of Using a Foam Roller

  • Aid in gaining a deeper and more effective stretch – Research has determined that using a foam roller to aid in stretching allows for the muscles to become more pliable and warms muscle up quicker and more effectively prior to static stretching (1).

  • Reduce Post Exercise Soreness and Pain – Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a common issue with athletes that occurs 24-48hrs after vigorous exercise due to chemical build up within the muscles. These chemicals sit within the myofascial tissues of the muscle and cause pain and discomfort deep within the muscles. A foam roller allows for a deeper penetration of the muscle which aids to disperse the chemicals as well as targeting tightness.

  • Decrease Performance Decline – DOMS and common muscle tightness and soreness can decrease an athlete’s ability to perform to the best of their ability especially if vigorous exercise causes structural damage to connective tissues. Ongoing exercise can negatively affect muscular functioning which can lead to a decline in performance ability. Research has shown that using a foam roller positively affects an athlete’s power, endurance, dynamic strength, and sprint time (2)

  • Decrease Feelings of Fatigue – Using a foam roller can aid in the relaxation of the athlete post-workout and can positively affect an athlete’s mental state (1). Research has shown that using a foam roller can help to decrease the feelings of fatigue and recovery time and increase an athlete’s ability to continue exercise for longer and may have the potential to increase training volume tolerance (3).

  • Increase Range of Motion – Foam roller use has been proven to improve passive and dynamic flexibility and range of motion. Studies have shown that passive range of motion (limit of joints when moved in various directions) increases with the use of a foam roller, while, dynamic range of motion (stretches involving movement) was maintained by an athlete because using a foam roller as a self-massage technique mimics the effects of a myofascial release (4).  If foam roller techniques are used prior to exercise, it has been shown to increase flexibility (5).

  • Decrease Inflammation – Massage is often used to increase active blood flow through muscular manipulation, using a foam roller can have similar effects by enabling the movement of interstitial fluid and chemicals that accumulate in the muscles when exercising. It is important to get the fluids back circulating to reduce swelling, pain, and inflammation effects.

  • Reduce arterial Stiffness – Foam roller use aids to restore and extend soft tissue, muscles, tendons and ligaments, as well as improve arterial stiffness and vascular function.

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How to Use A Foam Roller

  • Foam rollers have benefits when used before and/or after a workout
  • Use for 20 minutes or more to achieve the results above
  • Use every day for sustained results and benefits
  • Be mindful to not over stretch or overuse the foam roller to avoid injury
  • Identify your tight areas/ areas you targeted during the workout and roll the foam roller along the muscle smoothly.

General tips to follow when using a foam roller:

  • Start with a lighter pressure and increase as you get used to the sensation. It may be painful at first while your muscles are tight. To vary the pressure; reduce the amount of body weight you are putting onto the foam roller by using other parts of your body to support yourself.
  • Use the foam roller slowly for 10-60 seconds
  • Drink plenty of water to aid in recovery

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Is it safe?

Foam rolling is considered a safe self-massage tool to reduce muscular tightness.

What to Avoid:

  • Using a foam roller on a Serious injury e.g. muscle tear or break
  • Rolling over small joints (e.g. knees, elbows, ankles)
  • Using a foam roller if you are pregnant unless cleared by a medical professional (If cleared,
  •  using a foam roller can aid in relieving tension during pregnancy if used correctly)
  • Using a foam roller on your calves if you are in your third trimester of pregnancy

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References:

  1. 101:Foam Rolling 101. American Council on Exercise. Link: https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/5624/foam-rolling-101/
  2. Pearcey, Gregory EP, David J. Bradbury-Squires, Jon-Erik Kawamoto, Eric J. Drinkwater, David G. Behm, and Duane C. Button. “Foam rolling for delayed-onset muscle soreness and recovery of dynamic performance measures.” Journal of athletic training 50, no. 1 (2015): 5-13
  3. Healey, Kellie C., Disa L. Hatfield, Peter Blanpied, Leah R. Dorfman, and Deborah Riebe. “The effects of myofascial release with foam rolling on performance.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 28, no. 1 (2014): 61-68.
  4. MacDonald, Graham Z., Duane C. Button, Eric J. Drinkwater, and David George Behm. “Foam rolling as a recovery tool after an intense bout of physical activity.” Med Sci Sports Exerc 46, no. 1 (2014): 131-142.
  5. Sullivan, Kathleen M., Dustin BJ Silvey, Duane C. Button, and David G. Behm. “Roller‐massager application to the hamstrings increases sit‐and‐reach range of motion within five to ten seconds without performance impairments.” International journal of sports physical therapy 8, no. 3 (2013): 228.

Written By Rose Mercieca – 29/9/2020