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Foam Rolling Aka Self Manual Therapy

This research-based article on foam rolling elaborates the effects of foam rolling on the body. Find out how this newly found fitness ‘must’ is otherwise also a very useful self-manual therapy.

Foam Rolling Aka Self Manual Therapy

Used by an abundance of fitness enthusiasts and athletes, Foam Rolling has now become arguably the most popular form of self - manual therapy. While usually long and cylindrical, they come in many shapes, sizes and varying textures. When used for self-massage, they help soothe tight, sore areas (known as "trigger points") and speed up muscle recovery. This process of rolling out tight muscles and relieving tension is also called myofascial release.

Foam rolling can be used to induce a variety of changes in the tissue, depending on the application of use. One method is to simply use body weight to apply compression forces into a particular area. Compression has been found to have many positive effects on muscles when applied in systematic manner. 

When compression is applied, blood meant for particular tissue will first be obstructed when the rescue is removed nutrient rich blood will rush to the area to begin the healing process. This obstruction is known as ischemic pressure and has been found to be effective at reducing sensitivity in individuals with neck and upper back pain in an at home program. Research suggest compression can help to decrease pain, by decreasing pain and increasing the quality to the muscle, there will be more range of motion at each joint which will lead to more effective movement. 

Who Uses Foam Rolling


Foam rolling before a workout is a great way to increase circulation, increase range of motion and get the body better prepared for the demand of workout, without decreasing the performance (MacDonald et. al, 2011) 

Books, Woodruff, Wright and Donatelli (2005) found that massage after fatigue increases performance of the forearm muscles. In a comparison between static stretching and form rolling before isometric strength and jump heights, the foam rolling group was found to have increased their performance (D'Amico and Morin, nd). 

Post exercise massage has been found to reduce soreness without changing the ability of the muscles to function (Hibert, Sforzo and Swensen, 2002) 

Though much more research is needed to clarify the effects of foam rolling, recent investigations have indicated that it is an effective method for improving flexibility, subjective markers of recovery (i.e. DOMS), and athletic performance.

What is the Myofascia

The word 'myo' refers to the Latin term for muscle. The term 'fascia' has previously been described as "the soft-tissue component of the connective tissue system that permeates the human body, forming a continuous, whole-body, three-dimensional matrix of structural support. It interpenetrates and surrounds all organs, muscles, bones, and nerve fibres, creating a unique environment for body systems functioning (Findley, T. W. (2009). Despite there being disagreement in the definition of fascial tissue, this explanation provides sufficient understanding whilst remaining relatively well-worded. The term 'myofasica' therefore refers to the complex interaction between these two soft tissues.

What is Myofascial Release

Myofascial release is a form of manual therapy intended to have a direct effect on the myofascial complex by reducing localised tightness. In simpler words, foam rolling is a form of self-manual therapy which aims to reduce myofascial tightness. The current belief is that this localised tightness causes restrictions in joint range of motion (ROM) and local blood flow Findley, T., Chaudhry, H., Stecco, A., & Roman, M. (2012), and that manual manipulation of this tension will enable to the tissue to become softer and more pliable Barnes, M. F. (1997). In addition to muscle tissue, research has proven that fascia also contains mechanoreceptors.

As a result, it is thought that the pressure applied by foam rolling reduces the localised myofascial tightness by stimulating the fascial mechanoreceptors to signal the central nervous system to alter the activity of the muscle(s) below Schleip, R., & Müller, D. G. (2013). However, due to the lack of research and understanding on this topic, this theory still remains a matter of speculation.

The Effects of Foam Rolling

Foam rolling has become a staple in the majority of athletic training programmes and even for recreational use, simply due to its practicality and alleged performance-enhancing effects such as increased ROM, enhanced recovery, and improved performance. Whilst these effects have been primarily based upon practical knowledge, scientific empirical evidence on this topic has begun to grow and identify the true impacts of foam rolling on performance.

On Flexibility

In the past few years, many investigations have been conducted on the effects of foam rolling on flexibility, Evidence has shown that foam rolling does improve short-term (acute) flexibility and that this improvement lasts up to, but no longer than, 10-minutes. Moreover, foam rolling has also been shown to improve long-term (chronic) flexibility when it is performed on a regular basis. Whilst foam rolling has been proven to increase joint ROM, there appears to be no further improvement in flexibility between 5 sets of 20- and 60-second repetitions – meaning a 20-second repetition seems to be just as effective as 60 seconds.

On Performance

Historically static stretching has been a cornerstone of a typical warm-up routine to increase flexibility, at least until recent years where it has been shown to reduce force production, power output, running speed, reaction time, and strength endurance. In addition to dynamic stretching, foam rolling has also been making an introduction into warm up routine almost as a replacement to static stretching, or at least as an additive.

Foam rolling has repeatedly shown to have no negative impact on athletic performance. In fact, one study has even shown that foam rolling can even improve subsequent power, agility, strength, and speed when used in conjunction with dynamic preparatory movements.

On Recovery

The use of foam rolling is to speed-up the recovery process post-exercise and reduce the effects of Delayed Onset Of Muscle Soreness (DOMS). However, until recent years there has been very little evidence-based information about this. Having said this, recent research has demonstrated that foam rolling can reduce the sensation of DOMS following exercise.

Apart from the positive effects of foam rolling upon DOMS, little else is known regarding how foam rolling can influence the speed of recovery from physical activity. Regardless, the ability of foam rolling to reduce the sensations of DOMS following exercise should suggest that this technique may serve as a valuable tool for athletes and to fitness enthusiasts as well.

How To

Although still somewhat inconclusive, foam rolling’s ability to improve flexibility, speed, strength, power, and agility suggests that this form of self-manual therapy may be a worthwhile addition to warm up before workout. Moreover, due to its capability of reducing the effects of DOMS following physical activity, it may also provide a meaningful addition to recovery protocols after exercise, particularly during intense training and competition phase.

I recommend the following for potentially optimal result:

*3-5 sets of 20-30 second repetitions. 

*3-5 times per week performed on a consistent basis to achieve and maintain the effects on flexibility.


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About The Author

Muhammed Javed

Muhammed Javed Subbah completed degree in physical therapy from India and then concentrated on working in hospitals for orthopaedic, sports rehabilitation. Constant learning and.. Read More..


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