Myofascial rolling has become popular lately because of its purported benefits in recovery after exercise. Rolling techniques using a foam roller or massage stick have also been recommended as part of a warm-up for sport activities. Interestingly, there is very little research on the effectiveness of these techniques. The first study to demonstrate the efficacy of myofascial foam rolling was completed at Memorial University in Newfoundland, Canada from the lab of Dave Behm PhD. Their study in Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found a significant (10 degree) increase in knee range of motion after rolling the quadriceps for only 2 minutes. In addition, the subjects didn’t experience a decrease in knee strength or muscle activation with the increased range of motion, which is often seen immediately after static stretching.
Researchers from Dr. Behm’s lab wanted to determine if similar results were possible using the Thera-Band® Roller Massager.
17 healthy subjects received a consistent bout of roller massage to their hamstring at various intervals. 9 subjects served as controls. The researchers developed a custom-made device to deliver a constant rate (120 bpm) and pressure (13 kg) based on preliminary testing.
All subjects were measured for hamstring flexibility (sit-and-reach test), maximal strength, and muscle activation before and after the intervention. The researchers reported a significant increase in hamstring flexibility (4.3%) after only 5 seconds of rolling. After 10 seconds, there was a 6.6% increase in flexibility, although not statistically greater than at 5 seconds. There was no advantage to performing multiple sets of rolling. As expected, there were no changes in hamstring muscle performance after the rolling intervention.
Because subjects experienced an increase in flexibility without affecting the contractile elements, it’s possible that the fascia, rather than muscle, is most affected by rolling interventions. While the exact mechanism of myofascial rolling remains unclear, the authors speculated that the thixotropic property of fascia provides more viscosity after warming up the tissue; on the other hand, neurological inhibition may be taking place as well by depressing H-reflexes related to muscle excitability. Obviously, more research is needed to understand these mechanisms. Regardless of the mechanism, the researchers suggested, “the roller massager may use a different method than traditional static stretching to improve ROM.”
In conclusion, the researchers found that the Thera-Band Roller Massager “can provide statistically significant increases in ROM” without any significant effect on muscle strength, which might be beneficial as part of an immediate warm-up prior to an athletic event.
Disclosure: Thera-Band Academy supported this study
Reference: Sullivan KM, et al. Roller-massager application to the hamstrings increases sit-and-reach range of motion within five to ten seconds without performance impairments. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2013. 8(3):228-236.