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Is foam rolling overhyped?

Dr Alex Eade (Osteopath)


Foam rolling has become a popular practice pre and post exercise. I have seen many people for what looks like half their gym time on the roller. So I thought I could investigate further the benefits and what is an optimal routine? 


Benefits of foam rolling:

  • Increase range of motion for a short amount of time, normally lasting roughly 10 minutes
  • Reducing the potential soreness following a workout, delayed onset muscle fatigue


Myths about foam rolling:

  • Foam rolling does not break down adhesions and knots in the fascia


Then if it does not break down adhesion or knots then how do we get improved range of motion?



Similar to soft tissue massage where we have a change in neurological tone, this can change the stretch perception of the nervous system. If we have a decreased tone then the tissue can stretch and bend further. 


It is also thought that foam rolling helps improve blood flow and a result of this can increase intramuscular temperature. Other theories involve the removal of by-products in the muscles post workout, which can cause fatigue and delayed healing. This area still requires further research.


It has been found that short intervals of foam rolling before physical activity have no negative impact on muscle performance. It may even decrease the decrements in muscle performance throughout a session and have a small play in reducing perceived pain. 


How to get the most out of foam rolling:

  • Active movements after rolling before a workout have a greater change on mobility and a higher chance of becoming long term changes 
  • No need to foam roll for more than a couple of minutes. Roughly 2-5 minutes is sufficient before and after if required
  • Spending 30-60sec on a specific muscle is enough to get a tissue change, if the muscle is really restricted than a little longer if required
  • A higher density foam roller can be more effective, due to the potential of producing more pressure to the target tissues, suggesting a greater tissue and neural change 


Research is still limited on foam rollers, mainly when it comes to long term changes and the physiological mechanism responsible.


Cheatham, S. W., Kolber, M. J., Cain, M., & Lee, M. (2015). THE EFFECTS OF SELF-MYOFASCIAL RELEASE USING A FOAM ROLL OR ROLLER MASSAGER ON JOINT RANGE OF MOTION, MUSCLE RECOVERY, AND PERFORMANCE: A SYSTEMATIC REVIEW. International journal of sports physical therapy, 10(6), 827–838.

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