Foam Rolling for Muscle Recovery: Everything to Know

While we all know that there are many benefits to exercise, one of the drawbacks is that it often results in sore, tired muscles. It can be difficult to maintain a consistent exercise routine when you feel too sore to even think about lifting a dumbbell or hopping on the treadmill.

Key takeaways:
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    Foam rolling—a self-myofascial release technique—can be used to loosen up the fascia surrounding muscles, resulting in less soreness.
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    The use of a foam tube in the foam roller applies pressure against sore muscles and massages them, resulting in tension release and muscle relaxation.
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    Benefits of foam rolling include increased flexibility, decreased muscle pain, faster muscle recovery time, and improved range of motion.
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    Exercises with a foam roller should be avoided by people with broken bones or muscle sprains and should not be performed on areas prone to hyper-extension such as the elbows, knees, and ankles.
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    Foam rolling can be performed daily, both before and after workouts, or more sparingly if less muscle soreness is present.

Foam rolling—a unique stretching technique—can be used to combat muscle soreness, and help keep you on track to maintaining your fitness goals.

What is foam rolling?

Fascia, or the connective tissue surrounding the bones and muscles, tends to tighten up after workouts, resulting in sore muscles. Foam rolling is a self-myofascial release technique can be used to loosen up the fascia, resulting in less soreness.

The foam rolling technique involves rolling sore muscles back and forth on top of a foam tube. The foam applies pressure and massages the muscles, resulting in tension release and muscle relaxation. While using the foam roller, you can control the pressure exerted against your muscles by pressing harder or softer, depending on your specific needs.

How do I use a foam roller?

First, you will need to choose which muscles are sore to determine where you will begin the rolling process. Once you pick the muscle area, position yourself so that the sore muscle group is located on top of the foam roller. You will likely have to lie down or sit to position yourself in such a way that the correct muscle group is located on top of the foam roller.

Once in position, begin rolling your muscles back and forth over the foam roller, applying light pressure at first and increasing it as needed. Keep rolling for about a minute. An important thing to remember is that foam rolling should never be painful. There will likely be some discomfort involved, but if it is extremely painful, back off the pressure. If this does not improve the pain, you may have a more severe muscle injury, and it is best to stop rolling and see your provider for further evaluation.

Does foam rolling work?

Though it may seem unbelievable that the use of a simple foam tube could significantly combat muscle soreness, studies have proven its effectiveness. Individuals who regularly use a foam roller after workouts have reported improvement in muscle soreness and shortened recovery time between workouts.

Though typically thought of as a post-workout tool, foam rolling is also beneficial when performed before workouts. Specifically, studies have shown that foam rolling before workouts results in an improved range of motion and flexibility, which decreases the risk of getting injured during a workout.

What are the benefits of foam rolling?

Even a simple foam roller exercise offers many health benefits, including:

Are there any risks to foam rolling?

Though generally safe, foam rolling may not be the best option for muscle recovery in some situations. If you have a broken bone or any kind of muscle tear or strain, foam rolling should be avoided.

Additionally, it is important to avoid using the foam roller on areas of the body that can be hyperextended, including the elbows, knees, and ankles. If you are pregnant, foam rolling can be a good option for sore muscles, but it is essential to check with your provider first to ensure that it is safe for you and your baby.

There are no hard and fast rules about how often is best to use a foam roller. This decision should be made based solely on your individual needs and schedule. If you have a consistent daily workout routine, there is nothing wrong with rolling before and after your workout each day, but it is also fine to use the foam roller more sparingly if you don’t work out as regularly or feel that you don’t need to roll daily.


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