Some of the goals of using a foam roller during a patient’s rehabilitation include improving performance and flexibility, reducing post exercise soreness, reduce recovery time and help alleviate muscle pain/tightness.
The term used for Foam rolling in physical therapy is “self-myofascial release”. “Fascia” refers to the connective tissue that binds muscles together. By applying pressure in the form of myofascial release using a foam roller, you help improve and guide blood circulation to the region to assist the healing process and reducing muscle tightness.
A recent study in the Journal of Sports Rehabilitation found that foam rolling coupled with static stretching could increase range of motion more than stretching alone (study was focused on the hip range of motion). Other studies have found benefits such as “less muscle soreness, better vertical leap and greater flexibility”. It has also been found that foam rolling may activate the central nervous system which registers and reacts to pain. The nervous system also regulates functions such as blood flow and heart rate. Therefore foam rolling is thought to improve arterial flexibility and vascular function.
Other benefits of foam rolling as a form of myofascial release are similar to the benefits of massage therapy such as relaxation of the nervous system through the reduction of stress hormones (i.e. cortisol).
It is suggested to use foam rolling before exercise to work on improving mobility and range of motion and to use the foam roller after exercise in order to help prevent muscle soreness.