Many physically active people get muscle pain after exercise, known as “delayed onset
muscle soreness” or DOMS. Foam rolling is a popular means of alleviating delayed onset
muscle soreness and stiff muscles! But what does the science say? Is foam rolling actually
effective in reducing delayed onset muscle soreness, and in increasing flexibility? Some
studies show a small improvement, however, many don’t show any difference!
Foam rolling is a type of self-massage, usually using a cylindrical foam roller. They were
first used in the 1980s, and are now usually used in warm-up and/or cool-down exercises.
Proponents say foam rolling can reduce muscle pain, and increase flexibility (also known as
range of motion). Foam rollers and other similar devices are claimed to release the tightness
of “myofascia”. Myofascia is a thin connective tissue that surrounds our muscles. It prevents
friction between tissues, and transfers force generated by muscle fibres to the bone. Foam
rolling claims to stretch the myofascia and thereby could reduce such soreness and
Studies have shown, however, that the benefits of foam rolling are actually much more
noticeable as a WARM UP exercise, rather than recovery. When people use foam rolling
correctly before a workout, they have shown to have increased flexibility and range of
motion, as well as higher muscle pain tolerance. However, in both instances, the difference
was not very big. These studies also found that the effect on range of motion following foam
rolling is similar to that of stretching.
So if your goal is to increase range of motion, both stretching and foam rolling can be
considered as adequate warm-up routines. But remember: though foam rolling is generally
considered safe, it’s better to avoid it if you have a serious injury such as a muscle tear,
unless your doctor or a physical therapist has cleared you first.