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Foam rolling is a self-myofascial release (SMR) technique. It can help relieve muscle tightness, soreness, and inflammation, and increase your joint range of motion.
Foam rolling can be an effective tool to add to your warm-up or cooldown, before and after exercise. And the benefits of foam rolling may vary from person to person.
Read on to learn the about foam rolling’s benefits and potential risks, plus how to add it to your routine.
1. Ease muscle pain
Foam rolling can be beneficial for easing sore muscles and reducing inflammation.
One small studyTrusted Source of eight male participants found evidence that foam rolling after exercise may help reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness. In the study, physically active men foam rolled for 20 minutes immediately after exercise in addition to 24 and 48 hours after exercising.
These participants saw a decrease in their delayed-onset muscle soreness when compared to exercising without foam rolling. They also performed physical exercises better than those who didn’t foam roll.
More research is needed in a larger, more diverse group of people to confirm how foam rolling affects muscle pain.
2. Increase range of motion
Foam rolling may help increase your range of motion, but more research is needed. Range of motion is important for flexibility and performance.
Researchers found evidence from one small studyTrusted Source of 11 adolescent athletes that a combination of foam rolling and static stretching was most effective for increasing range of motion. This was compared to static stretching or foam rolling alone.
More research is needed among a larger, more diverse group of people to fully understand the connection to foam rolling and range of motion.
For best results from foam rolling, try to stretch out and foam roll after each workout.
3. Temporarily reduce the appearance of cellulite
Providers of some foam rolling products claim the products can help loosen and break up your fascia. Fascia are the body’s connective tissues and contribute to the appearance of cellulite.
While foam rolling may help smooth out your skin temporarily, there is currently no scientific evidence that it can permanently reduce cellulite.
The best way to reduce cellulite is to maintain an active lifestyle and consume a healthy diet.
4. Relieve back pain
SMR may be effectiveTrusted Source for easing pain in the body. It may help ease tension in the back, too.
It’s important to take care when using a foam roller on the back, however. It’s easy to strain or injure your back further.
To use your foam roller for lower back pain, turn your foam roller so it’s vertical (in-line with your spine) and slowly roll the roller from side to side, still in line with your spine. Do this as opposed to keeping it horizontal, which can cause you to arch and strain your back.
You can also try lying on a foam massage ball or a tennis ball to work out knots in the back.
5. Manage fibromyalgia symptoms
SMR has shown promising results for the treatment of fibromyalgia symptoms.
In one studyTrusted Source of 66 adults living with fibromyalgia, participants who foam rolled for 20 weeks reported that they felt better and had less pain intensity, fatigue, stiffness, and depression than those who didn’t try SMR techniques. They also reported an increase in their range of motion.
While this study is promising, more research is needed to confirm the efficacy of foam rolling for treating fibromyalgia symptoms.
6. Help you to relax
Many people find foam rolling to be relaxing. Breaking up tightness in your muscles may help you feel less tense and calmer as a result. But little evidence exists to show that foam rolling helps with relaxation.
In one small studyTrusted Source, 20 female participants either foam rolled or rested for 30 minutes after walking on the treadmill. Researchers didn’t find that foam rolling significantly reduced stress levels more than resting.
More research is needed. In the meantime, if you find foam rolling to be relaxing, there’s no harm in adding it to your weekly routine.
Is foam rolling safe?
Foam rolling is generally considered safe to do if you experience muscle tightness or regularly exercise. But avoid foam rolling if you have a serious injury such as a muscle tear or break, unless your doctor or a physical therapist has cleared you first.
Also avoid rolling over small joints like your knees, elbows, and ankles, which could cause you to hyperextend or damage them. Instead, when foam rolling your legs, roll out your calves first and then your quads separately, avoiding the knee area.
Foam rolling may help relieve tension during pregnancy. Just get cleared by your doctor first and avoid lying on your back to foam roll later in your pregnancy. You also should skip rolling out the calves in your third trimester. This may cause premature labor. Talk to your doctor if you are concerned.
How to choose a foam roller
A foam roller is usually cylinder-shaped and made of dense foam. But you can find foam rollers in a range of sizes and shapes, and in various levels of firmness.
It may take some trial and error to find the foam roller that’s right for you. Try out different foam rollers before purchasing to find one that is comfortable for you to use.
Here are some of the different types of foam rollers available online:
- Smooth rollers are known for having a smooth, dense foam surface. They are best for people new to foam rolling. They offer even texture and aren’t as intense as a textured roller. This option is less expensive, too.
- Textured rollers have ridges and knobs on them. They are used to work deeper into muscles, and work out knots and tension.
- Foam-covered massage sticks can be used to deeply massage your legs or upper back.
- Foam massage balls can be used for targeted muscle areas. For example, to work out knots in shoulders.
When choosing a foam roller, you’ll also want to take the shape and size into consideration. A shorter roller is more effective for smaller areas like the arms and calves, for example. Shorter rollers are also are more portable if you plan to travel with your roller.
How to start foam rolling
If you’ve never foam rolled before, you may want to learn a few basics before you get started. You can find endless “foam rolling for beginners” videos online that will explain how to safely roll out different parts of the body.
Or if you exercise at a gym with foam rollers, you can also ask a trainer to walk you through how to use one. You can also try foam rolling classes to learn how to use it effectively.
In general, follow these tips to get started:
- Start with light pressure and build up as you get used to foam rolling. You may find it painful to foam roll at first if your muscles are tight. To adjust pressure, reduce the amount of body weight you’re putting onto the roller. For example, if you’re rolling out your calf, use your arms to help support your body and take some of your body weight off of the roller.
- Slowly roll tender areas for 10 seconds to start, then work up to 30 to 60 seconds at a time.
- Drink plenty of water after foam rolling to help with recovery.
If you want more tips, here are 8 foam rolling moves you can try.
Foam rolling can be an effective way to reduce muscle tension before starting your workout. That’s especially the case if you have any leftover tension from exercising over the previous few days.
Foam rolling can also be an important tool to use while cooling down after exercise.
If you add a foam roller to your warm-up and cooldown routine, you may find yourself feeling less sore in the days following.
If you regularly sit or stand for your job, or just have aches and pains, foam rolling can also be useful.
Always talk to your doctor before adding any new tools to your daily routine.
New Mexico Orthopaedics is a multi-disciplinary orthopedic clinic located in Albuquerque New Mexico. We have multiple physical therapy clinics located throughout the Albuquerque metro area.
New Mexico Orthopaedics offers a full spectrum of services related to orthopedic care and our expertise ranges from acute conditions such as sports injuries and fractures to prolonged, chronic care diagnoses, including total joint replacement and spinal disorders.
Because our team of highly-trained physicians specialize in various aspects of the musculoskeletal system, our practice has the capacity to treat any orthopedic condition, and offer related support services, such as physical therapy, WorkLink and much more.
If you need orthopedic care in Albuquerque New Mexico contact New Mexico Orthopaedics at 505-724-4300.