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A couple of years ago I had to undergo physical therapy for a partial tear in my shoulder. I’m still not quite sure if it was the result of sitting behind my computer for too many hours, working in the yard, or trying to prove that I could still do a cartwheel at the tender age of 37.
Prior to that injury, I had never used a foam roller. But after being encouraged by my orthopedic doctor, I learned that several stretches could help improve my range of motion (the degree to which joints can move), and I still incorporate a few of those stretches today as part of my self-care strategy.
The concept of foam rolling began in the 80’s, but the practice has become more mainstream in recent years. Foam rolling is a form of myofascial release, a technique that applies pressure to soft tissue in order to loosen connective tissue–or “knots,” as we sometimes call them.
But a word of caution: don’t just whip out your foam roller and waller around on on the floor with it. Learn some proper techniques first. Likewise, it’s also important to fully understand the source of your pain; and that may require a medical evaluation. In some cases, foam rolling could actually do more damage to injured areas.
Despite the popularity of foam rolling, there isn’t a lot of research to support the effectiveness of the practice. A study in 2015, which included just 8 college-aged, male subjects who were classified as moderately to very physically active, concluded that foam rolling was effective in reducing delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Also in 2015, a systematic review of the research (14 articles that included a total of 260 subjects) found that foam rolling may improve short-term range of motion.
While there are still some differences of opinion within the fitness and medical communities, foam rolling does appear to provide health benefits for some people in certain situations. As you begin to explore foam rolling, be sure to learn the proper techniques and listen to your body.
What has been your experience with foam rolling?