Friday, October 6, 2017

Foam Rolling: Is it Worth the Hurt?

by James Bansberg, PT

The popularity of foam rolling and other self-massage techniques has skyrocketed in recent years. In this age of As-Seen-On-TV products and endless Facebook ads, however, there are so many fad items that claim to be good for our bodies that it can be hard to determine which of them is worth the time. Additionally, if you've ever used a foam roller, let's face it - they hurt! Since free time is a commodity for many of us, is rolling up and down on a solid piece of foam or PVC of any real benefit?

Fortunately, research investigating the effectiveness of and different uses for foam rolling are also at an all-time high. Given the number of studies on the subject, researchers have reviewed the literature, seeking to determine the following: if foam rolling improved joint range of motion without affecting performance; if, after exercise, foam rolling enhanced recovery and decreased delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS); and if foam rolling before activity affected muscle performance during a workout.

After reviewing and synthesizing 14 peer-reviewed articles, here's what they concluded:

  • Both foam rolling and self-roller massage can increase flexibility and range of motion of the hip, knee and ankle in the short term.
  • Foam rolling and self-roller massage can diminish DOMS in lower extremity muscles as well as reduce perceived pain after an intense bout of exercise.
  • Short bouts of foam rolling or roller massage to the lower extremity prior to activity does not enhance or negatively affect muscle performance but may change the perception of fatigue.
So even though the thought of foam rolling may make you wince, a short bout of foam rolling can actually allow you to train harder or perform better. Moreover, it is effective when performed both before and after a workout and can benefit anyone from in-season athletes to the personal training client.

Cheatham S et al. 2015. The Effects of Self-Myofscial Release using a Foam Roll or Roller Massager on Joint Range of Motion, Muscle Recovery, and Performance: A Systemic Review Int J Sports Physical Ther 10(6):827-38