Benefits of Foam Rolling

Updated: Feb 26, 2021

(An extension of the article: Injury - Prevention is Better than the Cure)

woman rolling her thigh on a foam roller

We all know that exercise results in minor microtrauma; that is, microscopic tears in the muscle fibres. Over time, and if not adequately treated, this can result in excessive inflammation and scar tissue which in turn increases our susceptibility to injury.

"Inflammation is the body's response to tissue injury caused by pressure, friction, repeated load or overload . . ."

A simple and highly effective way to aid post-exercise recovery is though myofascial release. This is where controlled pressure is applied to the muscles breaking down knots, releasing tension, removing metabolic waste and encouraging blood flow.

One method we can use to get the benefits of myofascial release is through foam rolling. Though by no means a substitution for a good sports therapist, the foam roller offers us an inexpensive supplementary method of reducing exercise-induced muscle dysfunctions whilst enhancing muscle relaxation and encouraging repair (Healey 2014).

Foam roller frenzy

Due to its recent increase in popularity there has been a deluge of foam rolling related information poured onto the internet over the past year or two. Some of that information is sound, some not so sound.

After reading through various sources on how to foam roll and the best techniques, I have attempted to distil the deluge into a cup-sized encapsulation. This will provide you with accurate and safe advice without wasting hours wading though a mire of information.

Following the How 2 I have compiled a comprehensive list of dos and don’ts whilst also sourcing a range of highly rated foam rollers for the reader who has yet to invest in this important piece of equipment.

How 2

Prior to foam rolling you should firstly prepare your environment. Personally I prefer to roll in a warm room and over a Yoga mat – the mat stops the roller from slipping and sliding. Also, I tend to roll after a 15 minute Yoga session as the muscles are loosened off somewhat.

Identify the area that you plan to focus on and, once you’ve manoeuvred into position, roll from the muscle insertion point to the origin. By doing this you will be rolling in the direction of the heart which mirrors the method adopted by sports therapists. The theory behind this practice is that by massaging towards the heart metabolic waste-laden blood is forced back into circulation where it can be re-oxygenated and purified. Irrespective of whether or not there is any merit to this theory it won’t hurt to adopt it when rolling.

Traditionally the advice was to roll across the fascia the way a baker applies a rolling pin to a recalcitrant lump of pastry – back and forward, back and forward until it is flat as pancake and smooth as marble. However, emerging studies have shown that better outcomes are experienced when, on locating a particularly tight patch of fascia or a nasty knot, we pause in the position.