While foam rolling has been a staple among athletes for years, research has yet to catch up to support the popularity; until now. 2015 was a big year in foam rolling research with encouraging results. Lower Extremity Review showcased the current research last October to chronicle the massive findings and strip some of the mystery from the elusive benefits of foam rolling.
How does Foam Rolling work?
According to the article, those researching the effects of foam rolling were from two perspectives: athletic performance (particularly range of motion [ROM]), and recovery from intense athletic activities that create sore muscles (DOMS). The article featured research from the Performance Health Scientific Advisory Committee, (SAC) including Dr. David Behm of Memorial University in St. Johns, Newfoundland Canada. Dr. Behm explained how foam rolling works:
‘Some people describe it as self-myofascial release, but that suggests that it’s actually breaking up adhesions, having an effect on trigger points.'”
“Such issues are critical in sports medicine because, when fascia becomes restricted—typically due to injury, disease, inactivity, or inflammation—it can lose its elasticity and bind around injured areas, causing fibrous adhesions. These, in turn, often lead to pain and abnormal muscle mechanics that affect joint range of motion, strength, endurance, coordination, and other factors.”
What does Foam Rolling do?
While the article cited a large number of research findings, some highlights include:
- Foam rolling tends to offer similar increases in range of motion as static stretching, but without the typical impairment associated with stretching.
- Foam rolling and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF stretching) about equally effective for increasing hamstring flexibility.
- After foam rolling, participants showed significantly increased joint flexion in the hips and knees during the landing phase of a maximum vertical jump.
- In distance runners, foam rolling decreased leg muscle soreness compared with the placebo condition but did not affect running performance.
- Foam rolling was associated with significant improvements in a variety of fascial health and functional movements such as deep squats, hurdle steps, leg raises, and trunk and rotary stability.
Members of the Performance Health SAC, including Dr. Behm and his colleague Dr. Duane Button have published their results on foam rolling research, including:
- Foam rolling substantially improved quadriceps muscle tenderness by a moderate to large amount in the days after fatigue. Substantial effects ranged from small to large in sprint time, power and dynamic strength-endurance. (Abstract)
- After foam rolling, subjects’ range of motion significantly increased by 10° and 8° at 2 and 10 minutes, respectively. There was a significant negative correlation between subjects’ force and ROM before foam rolling, which no longer existed after foam rolling. In conclusion, an acute bout of self-myofascial release of the quadriceps was an effective treatment to acutely enhance knee joint range of motion without a concomitant deficit in muscle performance. (Abstract)
Make sure to read the full article in Lower Extremity Review to learn more about the current research trends and findings.