Whether it’s at Pilates studio or a big box gym, you have likely seen people using large foam rolls, gliding them along their muscles like a baker rolling out dough.
These pieces of equipment are used to self-massage and alleviate muscle pain in the body.
Foam rolling can feel great — and it can sometimes hurt! — but the question is:
Does foam rolling get results? What results can you see and feel after foam rolling regularly for a month or so?
When you start foam rolling on a regular basis, you might experience:
- Relief from tight or enflamed muscles
- Improved range of motion and joint mobility
- Relaxation and improved sleep
- Increased blood flow
- Improved athletic performance
Let’s take a closer look at the benefits and results from foam rolling with the help of a few certified health and fitness experts.
Relief from Tight and Inflamed Muscles
When most people try foam rolling for the first time, they likely do it for the benefit for tight muscles.
People of all backgrounds get tight muscles, whether they are office workers or professional athletes.
Muscles develop bunched-up muscle fibers known as “muscle knots” that can be painful and restrict motion.
Foam rolling works to break up these adhesions and scar tissue in the muscles so they can feel less inflamed.
When asked about the results of foam rolling for tight muscles, physical therapist Dr. Tim Schuckers said:
“When someone is foam rolling, he or she will typically feel a painful or tender lump of tight tissue as they roll over it. This tissue is usually a tightened bundle of muscle and the fascia surrounding the muscle.”
Along with alleviating the tightness in muscles, you will also be rolling the adhesions in your fascial tissue.
Fascia is a thin sheet of flexible tissue that encases every muscle in your body. This tissue can also be tight, limiting the range of motion in your body.
ACE-certified personal trainer TJ Mentus explained the role that fascia has in your body and what foam rolling can do to help, saying:
“The muscles are covered in fascia, which is like a spiderweb. This fascia holds everything in place and, by doing so, can become stiff if it is not stretched out consistently.
“That stiffness can then begin to pull on joints causing discomfort and pain. By foam rolling, you can release the stiffness and tension in that fascia.”
If you have never done foam rolling before, you may not know where to start and how you know it’s working.
You may even be surprised at the discomfort you feel during your first foam rolling session.
Muscles can develop adhesions over the years, so it can take multiple foam rolling sessions before the pain level is less intense.
However, you will be glad that you stuck with it when your muscles feel more relaxed.
When you stick with foam rolling regularly, Dr. Schuckers mentions you can expect the following benefits:
“If someone has been foam rolling his/her back daily, he or she would notice decreased back pain, particularly those who have been working on computers at home as poor posture causes increased thoracic spine stiffness and tightness in the muscles between the shoulder blades.”
When people foam roll, the main area they target is their back muscles. Rolling the latissimus dorsi and rhomboid muscles will help to alleviate the back pain you experience.
The foam rolling should be done gently, and you should maintain pressure on the tender spots.
Note: It’s generally recommended that you do not foam roll your lower back muscles. No bones protect vital organs such as the kidney and liver in your lower back. Consult the help of a certified physical therapist on treatment for lower back pain.
Also check out the best foam rollers for beginners right here!
Improved Range of Motion & Joint Mobility
As our muscles develop more adhesions and scar tissue, you will have less range of motion in your joints.
Lack of body flexibility can make even the most simple tasks a challenge for many people.
Dr. Schuckers mentioned the benefits of foam rolling on all soft tissues in the body:
“The purpose of foam rolling is to improve the flexibility in the body’s soft tissues, i.e., muscles, tendons, fascia.
“Foam rolling can also be beneficial to improve joint mobility, which is when you would use a foam roller to roll out the spine.”
When your muscles become overly tight, they will start to guard the joints in your body and limit their motion.
As you break down all of the adhesions, you will free up the motion of the muscles again.
It’s important to note that improving your flexibility is a challenging and strenuous process that can take a long time.
You are eliminating years of built-up adhesions that developed throughout your daily routine.
As a word of caution, pole fitness and aerial hammock instructor Sophie Green talked about foam rolling the correct way, saying:
“Don’t roll over the connecting joints. Always use gentle movements and increase the intensity gradually.
“Do not apply pressure so that it becomes extremely painful as you could cause muscle bruising. Use small movements, make small adjustments and remember to breathe.”
You should never feel overwhelmed with pain during a foam rolling session.
A foam roller is designed to be used as a self-massage tool, giving you control over how much pressure you put on your body.
If you feel concerned about your body and foam rolling, you should always speak with a physician.
As Dr. Schuckers mentions, there are some instances where foam rolling would not be the best option.
“Most people can perform foam rolling safely, though you must be able to safely get down and up from the floor obviously and know your limits. Additionally, those with decreased bone density (i.e., osteopenia or osteoporosis) should be cautious with using foam rollers on the spine.”
With the supervision of a professional, you can make the right moves for your body and its needs.
Remember to use moderate pressure and not make any forceful movements that could injure you.
Deep Relaxation, Less Stress & Better Sleep
If you work a desk job, your shoulders and back muscles can develop muscle knots as you sit in a slouched posture.
When you have poor posture, you are putting physical stress on the body that can translate to body tension.
Many experts believe that rolling out the muscle knots in your body will release serotonin in the brain, making you feel more at ease.
Foam rolling before bed can be a great way to get a better night’s sleep.
Trainer TJ Mentus mentioned the benefits of foam rolling for stress relief, saying:
“Relieving the physical stress of the body can also have an impact on a person’s overall mood as well.”
People describe the feeling of foam rolling as getting a deep tissue massage at a spa.
When you don’t feel as restricted, and you can do tasks while not in pain, your mood will improve significantly.
If you want to get the most out of your foam rolling experience, you should follow a routine that’s best for your body.
Sophie Green mentions what she does for her foam rolling routine, detailing that:
“When using it to give yourself an extended self-massage, dedicate an hour to the practice. Give every muscle a massage, not just the tight ones. Start by rolling the balls of the feet. Move to the calves, hamstrings, thighs, and then glutes. Next move to the mid and upper back.”
Depending on your problem areas, you can focus on specific muscle groups more to release their tension.
By the end, you should release years of built-up tensions in your body and eliminate physical stress.
Increased Blood Flow = Better Recovery and Fewer Cramps
As you foam roll the muscles in your body, you will also encourage more blood flow to the areas you target.
This improvement in blood flow is documented in studies as well, showing immediate results.
Participants laterally foam rolled their thigh muscles in a study conducted by the Journal of Strength & Conditioning.
After foam rolling, there was a relative increase of 74% in blood flow from the arteries in the leg.
Additionally, there was still an increase in blood flow after 30-minutes of initially testing the participants.
This sudden and sustained increase in blood flow and oxygen delivery in the body has many benefits.
The benefits of better blood circulation are:
- Improved organ function
- Faster muscle recovery
- Lower blood pressure
If you are interested in living a long and healthy life, improving your blood circulation should be prioritized.
You will also notice the improvement in recovery time after working out, as Sophie Green mentions:
“Using the roller post-workout can be a brilliant way to increase resilience. This stimulates the blood flow and thus oxygen delivery to any affected areas reducing the recovery time of sore muscles.”
Once you eliminate the adhesions in your body, the added blood flow will deliver nutrients to the area for a speedy recovery.
If you have poor blood circulation in the body, you could experience muscle cramping, pain, or numbness.
Improvement in Athletic Performance
If you are an athlete or someone who likes exercising, you will notice an improvement in your performance after foam rolling.
When your body is less rigid and is flexible, you will be able to do your best.
As an athlete himself, head surf instructor Luke Pearson noted what he thought about foam rolling, saying:
“I’d recommend it to anyone participating in a sport on a regular basis.
“I’d advise starting slowly, and over a series of weeks building up to a point where you can spend perhaps 30 minutes getting into an intricate foam rolling session working a specific muscle group which is tight.”
All athletes should develop a mobility routine, with foam rolling being a crucial part of these routines.
Using foam rolling will also reduce the chances of injury and help recover from intense training.
In a study posted by the Journal of Scientific Medicine, foam rolling helped prevent muscle soreness in athletes following a workout. With more flexible muscles and an increase in blood flow, you will be able to recover quicker.
However, you should be cautious as well when doing foam rolling. Using an incorrect foam roller can do more harm than good as you experience muscle bruising and soreness from too much force.
If you are a foam rolling beginner, Dr. Schuckers mentioned some key points you should remember:
“I always recommend that people start out with a soft-density foam roller, which is much more forgiving than a hard density or hollow tube-like foam roller.
“For those who are athletes, foam rolling before and immediately after exercise for 5-10 minutes can provide optimum benefits.”
With these points in mind, you can use a foam roller to provide sufficient pressure to your sore muscles without them hurting.
You’ll need to stick with your foam rolling routine over time to see the best results and benefits.
While foam rolling may seem like a simple self-massaging technique, it can drastically improve your quality of life.
Regular foam rolling can eliminate muscle knots and tension that cause pain and lack of mobility. You will feel better and more mobile when you do foam rolling consistently, with the correct form.
Your best bet is to have pro trainer or therapist show you correct form, because doing it wrong is worse than not doing it at all!
But it’s worth the learning curve if you want to feel and perform better than ever.
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Hope this helps!