Posts tagged foam rolling
Does Foam Rolling Need to Be Painful To Be Effective?

Foam rolling has become a popular exercise intervention used to improve sports performance, accelerate recovery from workouts and training, and decrease muscle pain and tightness. Previous research has utilized 2-3 bouts of 60 seconds along major muscle groups in the lower body including the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. One component of the exercise prescription which has not been studied included intensity of the foam rolling. Is more better? Does it have to hurt to work? A new study asked these questions.

Grabow and colleagues in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research studied the effects of foam rolling intensity on range of motion, strength, and performance (2018). 16 healthy participants completed 3 different foam rolling prescriptions (low intensity (3/10 pain scale), moderate intensity (6/10 pain scale), and high intensity (8/10 pain scale)) with each exercise condition was performed 3 times for 60 seconds. Authors found significant increased of active and passive range of motion after each exercise condition, but these changes were independent of the intensity utilized. Thus, foam rolling does not need to be painful to be effective.

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No long term benefits found with a 4 week foam rolling program

Foam rolling is an effective home exercise to improve muscular pain, flexibility, and performance. Our previous blog posts detailed the performance benefits of performing foam rolling either before or after your exercise workouts. Our current understanding of the mechanisms behind these benefits are based on two categories: local circulation and improved stretch tolerance. As our nervous system adapts to the stimulus of foam rolling we are able to roll deeper and tolerate a greater stretch than we could before the stimulus of foam rolling. Up until this point, only the short term benefits of foam rolling have been studied. A new research study examines the impact of a long term foam rolling program on flexibility, strength, and performance.

Hodgson and colleagues randomized recreationally active college students to one of three groups: control, rolling three times per week, or rolling six times a week. Each of the intervention groups performed foam rolling of their dominant hamstring and quadricep muscles at their given frequency for 4 weeks. Participants range of motion, strength, and jumping ability were measured before and after the study period. The authors reported no long term benefits of foam rolling or significant interactions for any measurement except a slightly better jump height in the three times a week group. In contrast to the acute benefits of foam rolling, no long term or training benefits were noted after 4 weeks of foam rolling. This study supports our current understanding on the short term nervous system adaptations which follow acute bouts of foam rolling.

Like bathing, the effects of foam rolling do not last, which is why we recommend performing it daily.

IT band rolling NOT shown to improve flexibility

In a previous blog we wrote about why you should not spend your valuable exercise time rolling your iliiotibial (IT) band.  In short, this strong fibrous band will not stretch or move in response to any painful exercise with a foam roller or soft tissue tool of your choice.  This is a classic example of the juice not being worth the squeeze.  Conversely, rolling the surrounding muscles often reduces feeling of tightness and improves mobility across the lateral thigh.  A recent research article examined the impact of foam rolling either a muscle or the IT band on hip mobility.

Hall and colleagues in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy randomized 27 participants to perform 3 separate foam rolling sessions: over the gluteal muscles, over the IT band, and a control session (2018).  Authors measured hip flexibility both before and after each  of 3 rolling sessions in each participant.  Consistent with our prior research, no changes in hip mobility were seen after participants rolled their IT bands, but mobility improved after rolling the muscles of the hip.  

Patients are encouraged to roll muscle tissue and not the IT band to optimize their mobility workouts.  

Foam Rolling and Circulation Changes
foam rolling-effectiveness-how does it work-circulation

We have previously written on the effectiveness of foam rolling as a warm up or cool down technique, as well as, a treatment for muscle pain and soreness.  Utilizing a foam roller for 1-2 minutes on major muscle groups can lead to immediate changes in range of motion and flexibility likely due to improvements in our tolerance to stretch.  New research on foam rolling is investigating the interventions impact on our circulation.

Researchers in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research recently conducted a trial to investigate the effects of foam rolling on arterial circulation (Hotfiel et al. 2017).  The authors recruited 21 healthy participants whose circulation was assessed using doppler ultrasound both before and after foam rolling their thigh.  As expected, participants demonstrated improved tissue blow flow and circulation after foam rolling compared to their baseline testing.  These changes were noted immediately and 30 minutes after the foam rolling session.  In addition to the stretch tolerance theory linked above, this study adds further evidence on the physiological benefits of foam rolling.  

Why Rolling Your IT Band Is A Waste Of Time
Photo Credit:

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In a prior post we discussed the prevention, treatment, and prognosis for iliotibial band syndrome.  The iliotibial band is commonly injured due to poor running biomechanics (cross over running gait) and muscle imbalances.  Specifically, weakness in the gluteus medius and maximus and an overutilization of the tensor fascia lata muscle which connects into the IT band.  In the presence of this muscle imbalance the IT band is compressed against the knee bone creating friction and pain. 

Often patients in our Boulder Physical Therapy practice ask if they should add foam rolling to their IT band, as in the picture above, to help "release" or "stretch" the IT band.  This extremely painful foam rolling does little for your IT band flexibility due to the strength of this structure.  The IT band is an extremely tough tissue and will not stretch with foam rolling, massage, or any other intervention.  Chaudhry et al found it would take a load of over 9000 newtons (925 kg) to change the IT band by only 1% (2008).  To put the amount of force in perspective, a lion's jaw produces 4,450 N of force.  Thus, the juice is not worth the painful squeeze of the foam roller.  Patients are advised to work with a Physical Therapist to determine the underlying cause of the IT band pain.  To improve flexibility patients should work the soft tissue at the hip vs. the IT band tissue at the thigh.