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Foam Rollers: To roll, or not to roll, that is the question.

Many of you will have seen these foam tubes lying around the stretch areas at the gym, pilates studio or in your physio’s treatment room.

What are they and what do you use them for?

These simple pieces of equipment are called foam rollers. Foam rollers are commonly used as a recovery aid after training or physical activity to alleviate muscle soreness. Claims have also been made to suggest that foam rolling helps to correct muscle imbalances, improve range of movement, decrease joint stress, and improve muscle function.

How do you use a foam roller?


A quick search on YouTube would provide you with a catalogue of videos demonstrating how to use a foam roller. Basically, the technique involves placing the area you wish to stretch and release on the foam roller. You then apply some pressure or body weight whilst moving the foam roller over the muscle(s) you wish to treat. If you are unsure, you can always consult a physiotherapist!

There are no specific guidelines on how long you should foam roll for, however, some studies advocated the duration of foam rolling for 60 seconds with their subjects.

What are the benefits of using a foam roller?


physio massage

Foam rolling aids in the treatment of soft tissue restrictions and is commonly practiced after training or physical activity to alleviate muscle soreness.  There are several mechanisms by which foam rolling has been suggested to aid in the treatment and recovery of our muscles.

In August 2015 a systematic review was published, which looked at the effects of foam rolling and its efficacy. There seemed to be concurrent evidence that foam rolling increases flexibility in the short term and helps to reduce muscle soreness.  It was suggested that foam rolling may lead to improved arterial function, which could be useful in recovery.

Muscle function can be hindered in various ways through trauma, muscle imbalances and overuse, which can induce injury. Injuries in muscle stimulate the development of inelastic, fibrous adhesions between the layers of the muscle fibres, which, in turn, prevents normal muscle function and decreases soft tissue extensibility.  It has been proposed that the fascia (the connective tissue that binds our muscles together) may tighten as a result of inflammation and that foam rolling might reduce this inflammation by increasing blood flow. This increased blood flow  provides the muscle with more nutrients, and removes de-oxygenated blood and muscle waste that would hinder your body’s natural recovery process.

Trigger points are painful areas of contracted muscle tissue which can cause pain locally or can refer pain away from the area to another part of the body. Trigger points often arise in response to acute repetitive microtrauma to the muscles or from inappropriate biomechanics during movement or overtraining. This reduces the strength and function of the muscle and makes it susceptible to injury. It has been suggested that using a foam rolling can help to break up these trigger points.

What type of foam roller should I use?

There are generally two types of foam roller available on the market:

Bio foam roller






Multi-level rigid roller (trigger point roller)



Preference over the type of foam roller would depend on your budget, and your pressure-pain threshold due to differences in density. The use of a multi-level rigid roller or trigger point roller was shown to induce higher pressure over an isolated contact area compared to a bio foam roller. They may be more suited to those who are used to a deep tissue massage. Bio foam rollers are a lot cheaper, starting from as little as £10.00. A multi-level rigid roller on the other hand can set you back as much as £70.00-£80.00.

In conclusion, foam rolling is an effective way to improve the flexibility in our muscles and enhance recovery. It seems to achieve this by increasing blood flow, thereby facilitating the healing process in our muscles following exercise, and by reducing adhesions and the development of trigger points. This in turn improves the flexibility of the muscles and reduces the risk of injury.

The type of foam roller you opt for will depend on your budget and pain threshold. Having said that, using a foam roller does become more tolerable with regular use. It is a useful tool in reducing post exercise soreness and reducing inflammation and tightness in our muscles caused by postural and emotional stress. Foam rolling therefore appears to have a range of potentially valuable effects for both athletes and the general population.

My advice…………. Roll with it, and keep on moving!







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