What is it?
You may have seen fitness fanatics and athletes foam rolling in the stretch area of gyms, but what exactly are they hoping to achieve? It often looks uncomfortable, so why do it?
Foam rolling is a self-manual therapy technique used by many who believe it just helps with flexibility, but that is not all. It is also thought to improve recovery, joint range of movement and performance. The well-known term ‘myofascial release’ (MFR) is the scientific wording commonly associated with foam rolling. ‘Myo’ comes from the Latin term, meaning muscle. ‘Fascia’ is a soft tissue that spans throughout the entire body, linking and surrounding muscles, bones, organs and nerve fibres. Fascia has a tensile strength similar to that of steel, works with muscles to provide tensioning and has the ability to transfer energy throughout the entire body. These points highlight the importance of fascia in the human body and any blockages in this system can then have a knock-on effect leading to injury and pain.
So why is Myofascia relevant to foam rolling?
Foam rolling is thought to have a direct effect on local areas of tightness within myofascia and it’s down to mechanoreceptors within this soft tissue telling the brain to alter muscle activity, and ultimately relax the muscle that is being foam rolled.
What are the benefits of foam rolling?
Improves flexibility, both short and long term
Enhances joint range of movement
Reduces the effects of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)
Used as part of a warm up to aid in performance
How long should I foam roll for?
Research has shown that the optimal time and frequency of foam rolling is 3-5 sets of 20-30 second repetitions for short term changes in myofascial flexibility. To have a long term effect in flexibility, this regime should be performed 3-5 times per week for optimal results.
Is there scientific backing behind all these claims?
The answer is yes, however, research into foam rolling has only been a very recent focus amongst the scientific community and further trials are needed to reinforce current findings. The fundamental effects of foam rolling appear very encouraging and can potentially benefit individuals who are receiving treatment for an injury, be it sporting or in the work place. It is common practice for patients to be instructed to perform exercises outside the treatment room to speed up their recovery and the use of a foam roller could be a very effective tool.
Through recent trials, there have been encouraging results for improving hamstrings flexibility, aiding in recovery between training sessions, enhancing hip, knee and ankle range of motion and performance. Unfortunately, foam rolling on its own is not the be all and end all of injuries but it is shown to have a true benefit to help patients on their journey to recovery whilst they are being helped by a health care professional.
Treating patients who are suffering with sporting injures is a true passion of mine. The biomechanics of their injury is hugely important in knowing how to approach the patient with their injury. With the use of hands on therapy (massage, manipulation, acupuncture, ultrasound, kinesio-taping) and home rehabilitation, the patient will bounce back to fitness in no time.