A foam roller is a lightweight, cylindrical tube of compressed foam. It may be used for many reasons, including increasing flexibility and reducing pain. Foam rolling is a method of self- myofascial release. Rollers come in different sizes and degrees of firmness.
Whole classes are now devoted to the practice of foam rolling different parts of the body, it’s thought to improve athletic performance and flexibility, reduce workout-related soreness, slash recovery time and dissipate muscle pain.
So... How can wiggling round on a piece of foam do so much good?
Foam rolling is often described as a form of “self-myofascial release” (sometimes known as SMR). “Fascia” refers to connective tissue that binds and stabilizes the muscles. By massaging it (according to the marketing claims) you not only improve your muscles’ range of motion, but you also boost blood circulation, break down tightness or knots in your muscles and bolster muscle tissue integrity.
Like massage, another practice linked to lowering pain and soreness, foam rolling stimulates pressure receptors beneath your skin. When you stimulate those pressure receptors, that stimulation increases vagal activity in the brain, which has been linked to relaxation of the nervous system, reduced levels of stress hormones like cortisol and improved pain tolerance.
In other words, foam rolling may be knocking out stress and quieting your body’s pain-detection centers, instead of loosening your muscles.
Research is spotty at best with plenty of articles showing positive results but just as many showing no conclusive data. Most positive cases have shown two to three sets of foam rolling lasting between 30 and 60 seconds (that’s per muscle, not total) seems to be effective at reducing pain and improving flexibility.
So a good rule of thumb is; Roll before exercise if you want to boost range of motion or performance. A post-workout roll is good for preventing soreness.