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How Does Foam Rolling Work?

So you've seen that odd person in the gym, wincing in pain as they roll themselves over a tube-like thing and you've thought to yourself "what on earth are they doing?" Well, they are probably foam rolling.

It first began in the late 1980s after Broadway star Jerome Robbins used foam rolling for his ballet dancers and was later introduced to the public by Physiotherapist, Mike Clark in early 2000. It’s a form of self-massage, or you may have heard the term 'self-myofascial release'. Using the foam roller, the goal is to put pressure over your muscle and fascia (the connective tissue surrounding the muscle). But why?

Researchers so far suggest that foam rolling could: 

  1. Release deformities in the muscle fibres and fascia.
  2. Release trigger points.
  3. Improve blood flow to the tissues.

However... medical researchers are debating these suggestions, questioning exactly how foam rolling works; whether the muscle or fascia is the most important target; or if a trigger point even exists (definitely a topic for another blog). In all honesty, health professionals are still not entirely sure why foam rolling works!

What We Do Know: the benefits of foam rolling

Improves Flexibility:
Recently we have all found out that static stretching can actually decrease muscle performance (if you didn't know, now you do). There is no evidence however, to prove this is the same for foam rolling. Foam rolling could therefore improve flexibility without decreasing your performance. Other studies have shown that rolling a tennis ball under your foot can actually improve hamstring length, and that foam rolling one leg can improve ankle mobility in the opposite leg! How? This is likely because fascia is connected throughout the entire body.

Reduces Muscle Soreness:
A couple of experiments concluded that in comparison to people who didn't foam roll, people who foam rolled their legs for 20 minutes after 10 squats had reduced muscle soreness at 24, 48, AND 72 hours afterwards. It's important to bare in mind that this may not have the same effects with all types of exercise though. 

Improved Recovery Time:
A few articles have suggested that foam rolling after exercise actually improved recovery measures such as muscle activation and sprint speed, however, a LOT more research needs to be done in these areas before we can take them as facts.

Your Blog Takeaway:

Takeaway

  1. We’re still not scientifically sure exactly how or why foam rolling works.
  2. Foam rolling could improve flexibility and recovery, and reduce muscle soreness. 
  3. Don’t replace a dynamic warm up and cool down with foam rolling, add it to your routine instead!

Written by Laura Devaux

Questions?

If you have any questions about foam rolling or anything else, or want to book an appointment with one of our experts, please email info@studio57clinic.co.uk or call us on 01273 711399.

References

1. Macdonald GZ, Button DC, Drinkwater EJ, Behm DG (2014) Foam rolling as a recovery tool after an intense bout of physical activity [online] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24343353

2. Pearcey GE1, Bradbury-Squires DJ, Kawamoto JE, Drinkwater EJ, Behm DG, Button DC (2015) foam rolling for delayed-onset muscle soreness and recovery of dynamic performance measures [online] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25415413

3. Scott W. Cheatham, Morey J. Kolber, Matt Cain, and Matt Lee (2015) The effects of self-myofascial release using a foam roller or roller massager on joint range of motion, muscular recovery and performance: a systematic review [online] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4637917/

 

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