Foam rollers are a staple piece of equipment in gyms, fitness studios and other strength and conditioning and rehab facilities. People spend a good amount of time, effort (and pain!) rolling back and forth on these hard cylindrical objects in an effort to loosen areas that feel tight and uncomfortable and aid in their recovery. The question we’re often asked is:

Is foam rolling worth the time and does it work?!

The short answer is that foam rolling has a very limited place in the rehab and recovery world. We recently ran a recovery workshop for a great bunch of girls from a local group fitness studio, and although we included some time on foam rolling and muscle release techniques, we emphasised that there’s a LOT of better things you can be doing for your body to improve performance, flexibility and recovery than foam rolling. There’s a common misconception that foam rolling is increasing the length of muscles and tissues which in turn helps with our flexibility. If you are to spend time foam rolling it’s important to note you ARE NOT changing the length of muscles or tissues by foam rolling.

Fun fact: Research shows it takes an enormous amount of force to change the length of fascia (such as the ITB) by just 1%. Such an amount of force cannot be provided by a foam roller, and any positive effects are only temporary, lasting about 10 minutes.

How does foam rolling work then? And why do I feel looser after I do it?

Essentially, foam rolling (or any other form of self-myofascial release) is changing your body’s perception about tightness and/or pain. Ie. it is reducing local sensitivity of a particular area, essentially ‘turning down the volume’ to those areas as interpreted by the brain. This gives the feeling of “reduced tightness” following some time on the roller. Where foam rolling can be helpful, although the research evidence is weak, is in reducing the soreness you get following a hard workout (DOMS – delayed onset muscle soreness)

So if rolling doesn’t help with tightness, what can I do?!

A muscle that feels ‘tight’ is actually a weak muscle, struggling to cope with the load it is being placed under day-to-day. Your calves feeling tight after a big run for example is basically your calves way of saying “I need more strength to cope with that amount of running!”. We’re asking more of our calves of which they can’t provide, causing them to become lactic, sore and ‘tight’. To reduce tightness, we get muscles strong. A progressive and graded muscle strengthening program lasting 8-12 weeks  is the best treatment for those stiff and sore muscles!

In summary: foam rolling, static stretching and massage ultimately decrease sensitivity and improve muscle ‘flexibility’ in the short term, which if done at the correct time can open a small “movement window” to allow us to access ranges of mobility that we can’t normally access. By all means, keep rolling, stretching and getting massage, but understand the effects it’s having and that there’s better bang for buck things you can be doing if reducing tightness is your aim.  

At Thrive Physio Plus we can take you through a thorough assessment targeting areas of weakness or concern, and implement a management plan to get you back on track and rid you of those feelings of ‘tightness’. If you would like to get started but feel unsure as to how, we highly recommend visiting a Physiotherapist for an assessment prior.

Get on top of your stiffness today by booking in *here* or call the clinic on 8490 0777

Frequently Asked Questions

How does foam rolling work?

Foam rolling works by reducing the sensation of tightness by changing your body’s perception of the area being rolled.