Foam Rolling is gaining in popularity due to its ability to accelerate recovery, treat sore and painful muscles, and improve flexibility. Within the leg, ankle stiffness or reduced flexibility is commonly found in the ankle. This loss of motion prevents the leg bones from properly moving over the foot during walking and running. These changes in gait increase a patient's risk of developing heel pain, knee pain, or overuse injuries in our tendons. Manual therapy treatments by a Physical Therapist combined with the use of a foam roller produce immediate changes in flexibility across the ankle improving a patient's ability to squat, walk, or run. Recent research has identified multiple mechanisms underlying the improvements in flexibility following foam rolling including an increase in an individuals tolerance to stretch.
A recent article in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy examined the impact of foam rolling on ankle flexibility (Kelly et al. 2016). 26 subjects foam rolled one of their calves 3 times for 30 seconds each. Authors then assessed their ankle flexibility in a weight bearing position immediately and then up to 20 minutes after the foam rolling. The authors found that ankle range of motion was improved up to 20 minutes after foam rolling in both the treated and untreated ankle. The improvement in ankle motion in the non treated leg is contributed to the cross over effect seen in resistance training. The ability of a one sided treatment to improve both legs flexibility indicates a central nervous system adaptation is at work. Patients who foam roll are improving their nervous systems ability to tolerate stretch on both legs.