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To Foam Roll or Not to Foam Roll?

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Foam Rolling

To Foam Roll or Not to Foam Roll?

To foam roll or not to foam roll? That is the question—  and a pretty big question that puzzles the fitness industry.  Foam rolling has, and continues to be, a popular gym/rehab prop and pre/post exercise modality.. but does it work? After scouring PubMed and other reputable research sites, the answer is, not much research has been done and what research has been done has come to a lot of the same conclusions.

Foam Rolling Benefits

  • Foam rolling does have a short term effect on muscle length (but very short term)
  • Increases blood rate lactate clearance & decreases soreness and fatigue
  • Increases the pain pressure threshold
  • Slightly improves the mobility of the thoracodorsal fascia
  • Induces neural inhibition
  • Benefits a sprint or explosive exercise, but may lessen the performance of an endurance run

So what does this all mean?  Well, it means that foam rolling kind of works (maybe), but more studies are required. It also means that HOW you use a foam roller for your body is more important to obtaining a desired effect.

Foam Rolling Best Practices

For example, many of our patients and clients have scoliosis (including yours truly ) and have muscle imbalances. Some of this group tends to be quad dominant, more so on one side than the other, resulting in trouble activating hamstrings and glutes. As a result, when the quads are particularly tight, they can pull the pelvis into an anterior tilt (tilted forward). In this particular situation — foam rolling (mostly in the form of trigger point release) before a  workout (to strengthen glutes and hamstrings) helps keep a leveled pelvis (which is beneficial). By using the foam roller on the quadriceps, it sends a signal to the brain to neurally inhibit or attempt to shut down by decreasing the nervous system input to them.  Rolling out tight quads also allows them to lengthen, albeit temporarily, which allows the pelvis to rotate back to where it needs to be, putting the hamstrings and glutes at a more favorable length to fire.

Foam Rolling Mistakes

With all of the above in mind, there are ways to use foam rolling incorrectly.  The number one thing that we see, is people using the foam roller in lieu of stretching. They should not be mutually exclusive, but rather, used to benefit one another. Foam rolling an overactive muscle that is inhibiting the firing of another muscle will release the overactive muscle a little, but adding stretching of that now neurally inhibited muscle will help that muscle gain even more length. The second most common thing we see when it comes to foam rolling is rolling the muscle that is trying to activate. For example – if someone completes an entire glute and hamstring workout, and then proceeds to foam roll their hamstrings and glutes – they then strengthened and inhibited.  

Moral of the story? It’s totally fine to add foam rolling to your workout routine, as long as it’s used correctly and in conjunction with stretching and strengthening to achieve your fitness goals.

With peace and good vibes,

Alix Terpos PT, DPT



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