Self soft tissue mobilization using a foam roller or other device (stick, ball, etc) is a popular adjunct to training that we see our strength and endurance athletes utilize in our Boulder physical therapy practice.
We often receive questions about how and when foam rolling should be utilized in training and whether it helps with recovery, performance or injury prevention. A recent meta-analysis (Wiewelhove et al 2019) looked at the impacts of pre-rolling and post-rolling on performance, flexibility and muscle pain in healthy, active individuals.
The largest effect of pre-rolling related to improved flexibility, with 62% of people expected to demonstrate short-term improvements in flexibility with rolling as part of their pre-exercise warmup. Pre-rolling also resulted in small improvements in sprint performance that may be significant for elite athletes but not necessarily for recreational athletes.
The largest effect of post-rolling was found for alleviation of perceived muscle pain. The mechanism by which this occurs is thought to be modulated by the central nervous system rather than any local effects on trigger points or scar tissue – both commonly held beliefs.
Although the mechanism by which foam rolling works to improve flexibility and pain is not well understood, there does seem to be sufficient evidence to support it’s addition to a pre exercise warm-up routine for improving flexibility and for a post-workout recovery to aid in reducing muscle soreness. Side affects associated with foam rolling are almost completely absent, making it a low risk intervention with potential short-term reward.
One clinical example in our physical therapy practice at MEND, we might advise an athlete with limited squat depth and lack of dorsiflexion motion to utilize foam rolling to their calf muscles prior to a squatting session to help improve mobility and squat mechanics.
For more information on whether you should add foam rolling to your exercise routine, please contact the experts at MEND.