The use of foam rollers before and after workouts can aid in both relief and recovery.

Walk into most fitness stores, athletic retailers or gyms, and you’ll see them selling different versions of colorful, cylindrical items of various sizes and thicknesses, all covered in firm, textured foam.

The items are called foam rollers, and according to Bend physical therapist Brittany Jones, there’s a reason why they’ve become such a popular item in the athletic, medical and fitness worlds.

“Foam rollers can provide relief to tender and sore muscles both before and after workouts, offering a simple element of manual therapy that can boast a number of benefits,“ said Jones, staff physical therapist of Therapeutic Associates Physical Therapy in Bend. “When used properly, foam rollers can improve soft tissue mobility, help in post activity recovery and boost performance.“

Foam roller exercises are done in 20- to 30-second increments during which a person slowly rolls various areas of his or her body over the foam cylinder, using natural body weight to apply firm pressure onto underlying soft tissue and muscles.

“Foam rollers essentially provide a deep tissue massage that a patient can perform themselves,” Jones said. “By slowly rolling against tender or stiff muscles, you can achieve myofascial release, easing pain and tension. Care must be taken to avoid providing so much pressure that pain and tension actually increase. That is definitely not the goal of foam roller usage.”

Multiple studies support the legitimacy of the claims. For instance, a 2015 study published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy showed that foam rolling exercise significantly improved muscle tenderness in patients, as well as improved stamina and fatigue resistance in the same patients post-treatment.

The regular and safe use of foam rollers allow a person to:

  • Relieve Muscle Stiffness & Tension: By gently and slowly massaging one muscle group at a time, foam rollers can help relieve tension pre- or post-workout, allowing patients to recover quicker. If you spend a large amount of time sitting, either in the office, at home or in a car, muscle stiffness can be a common occurrence. Focused foam rolling exercises can help relieve this stiffness and tension, as well.
  • Improve Flexibility and Range of Motion: Stretching and flexibility exercises can be performed with a much wider range of motion following regular foam roller use, allowing a person to adjust to new exercises and improve upon their mobility with each session.
  • Improve Posture: Regular foam rolling can help flatten out rounded shoulders, assist in realigning your spine, even out muscle imbalances, and strengthen your core muscles, which will help you stand taller and avoid unnecessary pressure on your spine.
  • Reduce Chronic Pain: Although foam rolling alone cannot repair or heal chronic back pain, it can provide some measure of relief. Regular foam rolling exercises focused on the entire back and hips can help release painful muscle restrictions thereby decreasing tension to prevent further discomfort.

Self foam rolling is not a substitute for consulting a physical therapist or other medical professional in the presence of a serious injury.

“And if you have any questions about how to properly use a foam roller to achieve specific goals related to symptom relief, recovery, improving range of motion or improving performance, see a physical therapist,” Jones said. “A PT will help you come up with exercises customized specifically for you, your goals and your limitations.”