What is it?
Foam rolling is a process of recovery, stretching and self-myofascial release. It is done with an object called a foam roller which is a cylinder shape of foam.
What is myofascia?
Myofacia- ‘Myo’ means muscle and ‘fascia’ means band. Facia is a connective tissue that is like a second skin underneath your regular skin or really like a thin layer of muscle as the tissues have the ability to contract, it surround, connects and protects all of the tissues of the body (tendons, ligaments, muscles, bones and organs). It is made up of elastin and collagen fibres, which makes this substance very strong yet flexible at the same time. When the myofacia is in a healthy state is relaxed and easy to manipulate beneath the skin. This allows it to provide cushioning and a type of support that allows us to move around without restrictions or pain. Facia is also very dynamic in nature, meaning that it can respond to forces in order to help protect the body from injury.
Any type of trauma whether physical or emotional can leave scar like substances within the facia, this may cause the facia to lose its sponginess and become taut, which can mean that internal structures become pulled out of alignment, creating abnormal pressure within the body that has the potential to crush nerves, blood and lymph vessels and create pain on sensitive structures.
What is self-myofascial release?
This is basically like having a sports massage and is said to offer the same benefits of having a massage. Except a sports massage can be quite relaxing and make you feel good. In my experience with foam rolling it has been 100% pain! The idea behind this is to have the same effect but without hiring professional help. Although this is more cost effective, in my personal opinion there is no substitute for a well-qualified professional.
During foam rolling, the foam rollee is supposed to use their own body weight in order to exert pressure on the specific areas of soft tissue that need attention. This is supposed to place both direct and sweeping pressure on the tissues, generating friction between the tissues and the foam roller in turn causing a stretch of said tissues.
Self-Myofascial Release (SMR) had been around for quite a while, but there has been an influx of research in recent years as it has been found more popular among athletes and non-athletes. Specifically foam rolling, this is a fairly new concept that has really gotten quite a lot of research done on it in last few years. Numerous studies are undertaken with them each year to determine their worth in the fitness world.
Foam rolling is referred to as Self Myofascial Release (SMR) and there are plenty of studies that suggest there are a large degree of benefits that come from this type of SMR. Now I, would like to say that different scientific papers are tested differently with different study groups, so for every paper that says proves it there will also be a paper disproving that it works. This blog is not a review on papers that has disproved that foam rolling doesn’t work. This is a review on the evidence that foam rolling has a positive effect on the body and athletic performance. I urge you to go out and do your own research on the matter and come to your own conclusion, but for now here is literature that proves that foam rolling should be implemented into a training programme.
Foam rolling is thought to help increase circulation and in turn aid recovery during Dealyed- onset muscle soreness (DOMS) in a study done by Byrne C et al, 2004 “After intense exercise, this discomfort and pain commonly are associated with disruption of the intracellular muscle structure, sarcolemma, and extracellular matrix, which leads to prolonged impairment of muscle function and delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS).” This is relatively old research as it is now 12 years old and as a rule usually research that is more than 10 years old is taken with a pinch of salt, due to advances in testing protocols, in the last ten years. Although, more recent study done by Crane JD et al 2012 showing that ‘foam rolling decreases muscle soreness, cellular stress and inflammation, which are three main components of DOMS.’ This being much more recent research is more reliable in terms of testing procedures, this coupled with earlier evidence suggests that SMR through foam rolling does in fact aid in reducing DOMS.
Although a more recent study from Castilglione 2010 has stated that “SMR before a workout will enhance performance because of myofascial release, leading to increased mobility and neuromuscular efficiency”. When you recruit more neuromuscular fibres in the body you can become more explosive and reaction timing can improve due to the increased amount of motor unit recruited allowing for a faster stronger muscular contraction. This derives from the trigger point method and It’s said that it has the same effect as Neuromuscular Techniques (NMT’s) used by therapists. NMT’s are said to do exactly what it says above and increase the mobility and neuromuscular efficiency.
NMT’s are usually applied to areas I tough tissue found in the body commonly known as “knots” these nots have pressure applied to them in such a way that they melt away and allow better neuromuscular reaction. With better neuromuscular recruitment it is thought that the practice of SMR via foam rolling can improve your physical performance in the way of maximum speed, maximum strength and power output. However there isn’t enough evidence on this matter to support these claims.
The foam roller can be used various different ways. The two main ways that they are used as discussed are:
- To cause friction between the roller and soft tissues leading to a stretch in the muscle.
- To be held in a specific position on a tender area in order to improve neuromuscular efficiency. This is often referred to as trigger point therapy and can come under NMT’s
In theory warming up with SMR via foam rolling will cause improved physical performance, due to the effects it has on the neuromuscular efficiency. However as stated above the findings of the improvement in vertical jump performance, sprints and strength output are varied ones. So it can be considered that some of SMR via foam rolling can be purely psychological.
The good news is that it can help greatly with DOM’s, according to the research and if the foam rolling is being done correctly.
There are usually two types of foam rollers, smooth and bobbly. I would recommend getting the bobbly one as it will have allow you to use it in a more efficient way and has more potential to be used as trigger point exercises rather than a smooth one that will just allow for myofascial release.
Thanks for reading.
Castiglione, A, ed. Self-Myofascial Release Therapy and Athletes. AIoSMR Therapy, 2010.
Crane JD, Ogborn DI, Cupido C, et al. Massage therapy attenuates inflammatory signaling after exercise-induced muscle damage. Sci Transl Med. 2012;4(119):119ra13.
Byrne C, Twist C, Eston R. Neuromuscular function after exercise-induced muscle damage: theoretical and applied implications. Sports Med. 2004;34(1):49–69.