I would imagine the foam roller is slowly taking the place of the exercise ball as the most common piece of exercise equipment in people's homes. Its' low price and versatility for both exercise and self treatment make it very popular among clients and patients alike. The foam roller is an effective piece of equipment for restoring mobility to body regions like the middle back and flexibility to upper and lower extremity muscles prone to tightness including the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and hips. As its' popularity increases, researchers are looking closer at the effects of foam rolling on pain, soreness, and mobility.
A recent review article in the International Journal of Sports Medicine examined the impact of foam rolling on range of motion, delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), and performance (Cheatham et al. 2015). The 14 combined articles supported the use of foam rollers to improve short term flexibility and range of motion. In addition, foam rolling was found to not have an negative impact on muscle performance and thus may be used safely before exercise sessions. When used after intense exercise foam rolling may help accelerate recovery by reducing DOMS and improving subsequent athletic performance.
Athletes should focus on utilizing the foam roller as part of their cool down following intense exercise to improve recovery. The foam roller self treatment should be performed for 2-3 bouts of 45-60 seconds to affected muscle groups and can be followed by static stretching for further benefits. Another area of research includes the effectiveness of foam rolling prior to performance. Research has indicated foam rolling in combination with a dynamic warm up is an effective way to improve athletic performance.