Foam Rolling: A Physiotherapist Explains the Why and How.

Foam rolling is everywhere these days. You see it in the gym, the physiotherapy clinic and at various sporting events as part of the athletes’ warm-up and cool-down routines. People are often making a grimacing face as they roll back and forth but do you know what they are trying to achieve by using a foam roller?

What is Foam Rolling?

Foam rolling is one of many forms of self-myofascial release or self-massage. It is commonly used to help release tight muscles that have developed. There are several different theories as to how this is achieved. Some studies highlight the use of deep compression that breaks up adhesions in the muscles(1); whereas other studies believe this release comes from neural input, meaning the signals from the muscle to the brain about when to contract and relax(2).

Why Use Foam Rolling?

There are numerous benefits that can be achieved through the use of foam rolling:

  1. Increased range of motion in muscles which helps to reduce the risk of muscle strain injuries
  2. Decreased muscle soreness/DOMS.
  3. Improved vascular function, which promotes better circulation to areas that don’t normally receive a lot of blood flow and can assist in the healing of damaged tissues.

How to Foam Roll

Roll back and forth along a targeted area of a muscle for 30 seconds to 2 minutes.  Light to moderate pressure to provide input to the nervous system.  There is no need to be rolling back and forth in agonizing pain to trigger muscle relaxation.

When to Seek Professional Help

Foam rolling can be a great addition to your workout or rehab routine but it is important to not just release the tight muscles but identify what is driving the tightness.  If you have muscles that are always tight, you must address the issues that are leading to those muscles getting tight in the first place such as muscle imbalances or weakness.  Otherwise, no matter how often you foam roll, your muscles will always be tight.

If you have chronically tight areas, see a physiotherapist. We can help identify what areas you need to work on to bring balance to your body and keep you on track to achieve your fitness goals.


  1. MacDonald, Graham Z.; Penney, Michael D.H.; Mullaley, Michelle E.; Cuconato, Amanda L.; Drake, Corey D.J.; Behm, David G.; Button, Duane C. (2013). An Acute Bout of Self-Myofascial Release Increases Range of Motion Without a Subsequent Decrease in Muscle Activation or Force. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 27(3), 812-821.
  2. Macdonald, G., Button, D., Drinkwater, E. & Behm, D. (2014). Foam rolling as a recovery tool after an intense bout of physical activity. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 46(1), 131-142.
  3. Fredericson, M., Cookingham, C., Chaudhari, A., Dowdell, B., Oestreicher, N., & Sahrmann, S. (2000). Hip abductor weakness in distance runners with iliotibial band syndrome. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 10(3), 169-175.
  4. Gregory E. P. Pearcey, David J. Bradbury-Squires, Jon-Erik Kawamoto, Eric J. Drinkwater, David G. Behm, and Duane C. Button (2015) Foam Rolling for Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness and Recovery of Dynamic Performance Measures. Journal of Athletic Training, January 2015, Vol. 50, No. 1, 5-13.
  5. Vigotsky, A., Lehman, G., Contreras, B., Beardsley, C., Chung, B. & Feser, E. (2015). Acute effects of anterior thigh foam rolling on hip angle, knee angle, and rectus femoris length in the modified Thomas test. Peer J 3:e1281


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