Science Summary: Foam Rolling and Range of Motion

Foam rolling has become a modern craze with a lot of research going into its effectiveness recently.  The concept behind a foam roller is called self-myofascial release (SMR).  The fascia is a layer of soft tissue under the skin covering and protecting the muscles of the body.  Muscle usage creates wear and tear in the fascia creating stiffness and leaving the muscles more prone to injury.  Essentially the idea behind SMR is that by massaging the body’s fascia we are able to restore elasticity and prevent injury by easing tension in the muscles and promoting blood flow.

In this article, researchers explore the relationship between SMR and increase in range of motion compared to increases caused by tradition static stretching (toe touches and such).  What they found was that by combining SMR via foam rolling and static stretching, participants experienced nearly a 50% greater increase in range of motion than from static stretching alone.  Participants who were tested on range of motion after SMR alone showed no increase in muscle flexibility however.

This increase was measured immediately following the foam rolling and static stretching treatment which may not directly translate into long term increases in flexibility, but it does suggest a correlation between foam rolling and muscle flexibility which adds credibility to foam rolling advocates.

What this means for you is that foam rolling as a treatment for muscle tightness isn’t necessarily just a placebo, especially when combined with stretching.  Though there is scientific evidence for the effectiveness of foam rolling, this study has a 2c rating which translates to a weak recommendation.  In my experience, foam rolling has helped with specific areas such as my calves, hamstrings, and lower back but other research (which I’ll talk about in a future post) suggests SMR may actually cause more harm than good in some areas such as the IT band.

— Scott

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