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Foam rolling – is it worth the pain?

There has been an explosion of foam rollers into the market over recent years, and I am sure that you have a family member touting their benefits. BUT, are they really worthy all that pain and discomfort?

Well there has been numerous studies of late investigating the value of the foam roller use over the last decade with mixed results. An extensive literature review by Schroeder & Best (2015) examined the current evidence for the use of foam roller self-myofascial release (SMR) techniques highlighted mixed results on pre-exercise, maintenance and recovery. Results showed that there was benefit increased range of motion across most of the studies, and increased function physical testing across several studies and a notable decrease in reported post exercise muscular soreness. However, most importantly, no negative effects were observed throughout the literature review.

“How long do I have to do this for?!” - The most common question yelled at me whilst patients are enjoying their first roller experience. Unfortunately, the jury is out. However, the good news is that across all of the articles reviewed, the most consistent timing appeared to be blocks of 1 minute x 3 repetitions (with 30 second breaks in between). On the studies whose protocols involved sessions routines of under 30 seconds and over 10 minutes showed decreased benefits in comparison. This timing instruction might not be perfect just yet, but it’s a start.

So, the takeaway message is that there is benefits in exercise performance and recovery, with no negative impacts despite the initial pain, for a routine that only needs to last for 3 minutes. So maybe don’t give up on that roller just yet and slowly introduce it into your pre-exercise and recovery sessions to help you stay active and healthier for longer.

Schroeder, A., & Best, T. (2015). Is Self Myofascial Release an Effective Preexercise and Recovery Strategy? A Literature Review. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 14(3), 200-208.

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