In a previously published post, our resident Triathlon coach Ryan Bourke postulated about Why you should be using a foam roller.
This post is a brief summary about the underlying therapeutic mechanisms of foam rolling. There has been some research investigating foam rolling (or self myofascial release) and how it affects joint range of motion, post-exercise fatigue, muscle soreness, and whether the type of roller is important.
Increased Joint Range of Motion
A study by MacDonald et al. (2013) showed an increase in knee range of motion after two 1-minute sessions foam rolling the quadriceps. However, there was no reduction in muscle activation following this, which has been reported for static stretching. For these reasons, foam rolling was found to be favourable to static stretching alone when combined with improvements in hamstring flexibility (Mohr, 2011).
Reduced Post-Exercise Fatigue
Healey et al. conducted a study published this year to determine whether the use of myofascial rollers before athletic tests can enhance performance. Twenty-six healthy college-aged individuals (13 men and 13 women) were recruited. The study design was a randomized crossover design in which the participant performed either a series of planking exercises or foam rolling exercises first and then performed a series of athletic performance tests (vertical jump height and power, isometric force, and agility). The plank is similar to the position required on the foam roller.
Post-exercise fatigue after foam rolling was significantly less compared with the subjects who performed the planking. This reduced fatigue may allow participants to extend acute workout time and volume, which can lead to ongoing performance enhancements. However, foam rolling had no effect on the actual performance itself.
Improved Muscle Soreness
Vaughan & McLaughlan (2014) investigated if there was a change in pain levels with self-release myofascial technique using a foam roller. They gauged pain levels by measuring a pressure pain threshold (PPT), which is the minimum amount of pressure that induces pain or tenderness. A handheld electronic pressure algometer, was used to measure the PPT. Three points along the ITB were marked and measured prior to a 3-minute session on the foam roller. Researchers took PPT measurements again immediately after foam rolling, and then 5-mintues after rolling. An immediate increase in the PPT was demonstrated post-bout; however, this difference was ameliorated 5 minutes later.
Willardson (2004) found that foam rolling was beneficial in attenuating muscle soreness while improving vertical jump height, muscle activation, and passive and dynamic range of motion in comparison with a control group. It is normal for there to be some discomfort whilst using the foam roller, however this should dissipate some once the pressure is removed.
Further evidence of reduced soreness was demonstrated by Jay et al. (2014). This study induced Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) with 10×10 stiff-legged dead lifts, then measured the pressure pain threshold (PPT). This was compared to doing the dead-lifts after 10minutes of self foam roller massage. PPT was measured at 0, 10, 30 and 60min after the deadlifts. There was a significant reduction in soreness and increased PPT for foam rolling (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24567859).
Type of Roller – Hard, Soft, Long, Short, Smooth or Notched
Length: Large 90cm long rollers are great for home use. They are more manageable to roll on and can also be used for other exercise rehabilitation tasks requiring lying on a roller vertically and using it for balancing.
Density: A review of research on foam rolling found that there was not a significant difference in reducing myofascial tension between softer and harder rollers. We would recommend a firm roller as it has more uses and will not deform as easily over time.
Notched: Some research has shown that there is a difference in using a roller with notches (multi-level rigid roller) or a smooth roller (Curran, Fiore, & Crisco, 2008). However, the differences measured only related to the amount of pressure applied, not improvements in effectiveness. Perhaps this type of roller enables a more isolated contact area, similar to a spikey massage ball.
Foam Roller Exercises
Lateral Quadriceps & Iliotibal Band (ITB)
If you would like to speak to Dr Brendan O’Loughlin or one of our other practitioners about how you can incorporate foam rolling in to your exercise routine, please feel free to ask a question, contact us or email us at:
Dr Brendan O’Loughlin is an experienced Osteopath at Melbourne Osteopathy Sports Injury Centre. He is a competitive triathlete and has fantastic experience treating all sorts of sporting injuries.
For the month of December, we are also offering $10 off the price of all foam rollers. Full length foam rollers will be available for just $65 from our Centre reception. This would make an ideal Christmas gift for any health-conscious friends or family.
Curran, P. F., Fiore, R. D., & Crisco, J. J. (2008). A comparison of the pressure exerted on soft tissue by 2 myofascial rollers. Journal of sport rehabilitation, 17(4), 432.
Healey, K. C., Hatfield, D. L., Blanpied, P., Dorfman, L. R., & Riebe, D. (2014). The effects of myofascial release with foam rolling on performance. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 28(1), 61-68.
Jay, K., Sundstrup, E., Søndergaard, S. D., Behm, D., Brandt, M., Særvoll, C. A., … & Andersen, L. L. (2014). Specific and cross over effects of massage for muscle soreness: randomized controlled trial. International journal of sports physical therapy, 9(1), 82.
MacDonald, G. Z., Penney, M. D., Mullaley, M. E., Cuconato, A. L., Drake, C. D., Behm, D. G., & Button, D. C. (2013). An acute bout of self-myofascial release increases range of motion without a subsequent decrease in muscle activation or force. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 27(3), 812-821.
Mohr, A. R. (2011). Effectiveness of foam rolling in combination with a static stretching protocol of the hamstrings (Doctoral dissertation, Oklahoma State University).
Vaughan, B. R., & McLaughlin, P. (2014). Immediate changes in pressure pain threshold in the iliotibial band using a myofascial (foam) roller. International Journal of Therapy and Rehabilitation, 21(12), 1-6.
Willardson, J. M. (2004). The effectiveness of resistance exercises performed on unstable equipment. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 26(5), 70-74.