Don’t get me wrong, foam rolling can be helpful. You just shouldn’t spend half your workout rolling your muscles.
Research (Morales-Artacho et al, 2017) has shown that combining passive exercises like foam rolling with active exercises like cycling was the best way to reduce stiffness and improve ROM, but research (Sullivan 2013) has also shown you can reduce perception of tightness with rolling only 10 seconds. So again: Foam Rolling Work, but it does not need a long period of time.
Mechanical or NeuroPhysiological?
Foam Rolling DOES NOT break up scar tissue or even stretch the fascia. Research (Chaudhrey 2008) has show that you would need almost 2000 lbs of force to make 1% change in tissue structure .
However, Foam rolling may reduce pain and improve tissue extensibility via a neurophysiological pathway. Research by Aboodarde (2015) showed reduced tenderness and improve mobility after treating the opposite limb, indicating that the effect of massage rolling is not mechanical in nature. Sullivan’s work, that showed such rapid result, also indicate that these outcomes can not be mechanical.
So how can I use the foam roll, or a massage roller?
We suggest you roll your muscles for a short amount of time: 10-30 seconds per muscle group, followed by some dynamic stretching of the muscles and thirdly loading up the muscles going through full ROM.
- Sullivan, K. M., Silvey, D. B., Button, et al. Roller-massager application to the hamstrings increases sit-and-reach range of motion within five to ten seconds without performance impairments.International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. 2013;8(3), 228
- Chaudhry H., Schleip R., Ji Z., Three-dimensional mathematical model for deformation of human fasciae in manual therapy.Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. 2008;108(8):379–390
- Aboodarda SJ, Spence AJ, Button DC. Pain pressure threshold of a muscle tender spot increases following local and non-local rolling massage. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2015;16:265.
- Morales-Artacho et al. (2017) Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2017 Dec;27(12):1959-1969. Effects of warm-up on hamstring muscles stiffness: Cycling vs foam rolling.