Have you tried foam rolling? If you have, you’ll know it hurts… you’ll also know it can reduce pain during movement, reduce stiffness and perhaps even improve performance – so, should we all be foam rolling?
What is foam rolling?
If this all sounds new to you, let’s catch you up – Foam rolling has exploded in popularity over the past few years. No longer used only by athletes and trainers, foam rolling (technically called myofascial release) is now used by people at all levels of fitness. Foam rolling involves exactly what it sounds like, one simply rolls themselves over a foam roller which puts pressure equivalent to your body weight on the targeted area. Some people use foam rolling as a post-workout technique, others incorporate actual sets of rolling as part of their training. Either way, the goal of foam rolling is to improve muscle function, performance, and range of motion. In essence, the idea is that when a tight muscle or trigger point is released, you’re better able to move freely, move with less pain, and improve your overall performance.
How does it work?
The word ‘myo’ is the Latin term for muscle. The term ‘fascia’ refers to the soft-tissue component of the connective tissue system which supports and, well “connects” the body together. Myofascial release is a form of manual therapy intended to have a direct effect on the myofascial complex by reducing localised tightness. As we exercise (or even just throughout the day) localised tightness builds up – this in turn causes restrictions in joint range of motion and local blood flow, foam rolling can potentially improve range of movement by releasing this tension.
Sound great? It’s highly likely that foam rolling could be a beneficial technique for many people – the downside, its pretty painful, especially when working on a sore spot!
Should I be foam rolling?
There are some clear benefits to foam rolling – activity, age, and injuries can all cause your muscles to lose flexibility over time, which in turn creates adhesions and pain. It’s also very cheap – a one-off investment in a foam roller will leave you change from £20. Foam rolling allows you to place deep compression on these areas, reducing pain and adhesions while creating an improved range of motion. Rolling may also be beneficial in terms of avoiding injury – researchers have shown that foam rolling during your warm-up can improve flexibility more than static and dynamic stretching.
Foam rolling before a workout may also be less painful – since you’re not working on tissue which is already somewhat aggravated.. so how about after that workout, or after a long day at work? This is probably going to depend on your tolerance for mild pain – foam rolling a sore area does hurt – some people actually enjoy the sensation of release and come to “love the pain” others just find it distressing. In fact it’s very much like lifting weights – bodybuilders and powerlifters often speak about loving the pain of a workout since it’s a concrete indication that some work is being done! Similarly, some people who swear by foam rolling enjoy knowing that while rolling might be a bit painful, it does mean they’re going to feel better later. Some even find that their pain threshold increases after some time.
If pain just isn’t your thing there are other options though – sports massage can be a good halfway option – while some sports massage techniques can be slightly painful, a massage therapist can vary the amount of force being applied much more than you can yourself using a foam roller, and if you’re looking for an ultra low risk, low pain way to stretch out sore muscles, why not try swimming?
Using a foam roller on tight muscles and trigger points has been shown to improve flexibility and help maintain proper movement patterns. If you have questions on whether foam rolling is right for you, just ask!
 Findley, T., Chaudhry, H., Stecco, A., & Roman, M. (2012). Fascia research–A narrative review. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 16(1), 67-7.
 Barnes, M. F. (1997). The basic science of myofascial release. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 1(4), 231-238.
 Acute Effects of Foam Rolling, Static Stretching, and Dynamic Stretching During Warm-ups on Muscular Flexibility and Strength in Young Adults. Journal of Sports Rehabilitation 2017
 Differences in pressure pain threshold among men and women after foam rolling. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies 2017