Self-myofascial release (foam rolling) – does it help with recovery?

Self-myofacial release, or foam rolling, is a popular form of self-massage for athletes and people taking part in sport. It involves small movements back and forth over a foam roller. This places direct pressure on the soft tissue, stretching it and warming the fascia and breaking up fibrous adhesions.

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There is little research into the effectiveness of this technique and therefore for this journal club, Stephen Carter, chose the following paper to read and summarise:

An acute bout of self-myofascial release increases range of motion without
a subsequent decrease in muscle activation or force. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

What was the aim of the paper?

Self-myofascial release, or foam rolling, has increased in popularity recently as a means of treatment for muscle injuries acquired during sports competition or training. This removes the need for a therapist to be on hand to apply manual therapy (massage) as individuals use their body mass on a foam roller to exert pressure on their problematic soft tissue. The principle behind foam rolling being the same as receiving a massage in order to break down adhesions within the muscle body.

However, despite the recent application of foam rolling within the sports industry, there is little research available which actually promotes or even investigates the use of foam rolling for recovery. As such the researchers aimed to resolve this by investigating the use of foam rolling on range of motion and force production within the Quadriceps following a foam rolling protocol.

What did the study involve?

Eleven male university students were recruited for the study, all of whom were recreational resistance trainers or ‘moderately to very physically active’. All participants were assigned two 1 minute bouts of rolling with 30s rest before measuring each of the investigated variables. The foam rollers used were purposely custom-made in order to provide greater pressure on the Quadriceps.

What were the main results?

It was found by the researchers that foam rolling caused an increase in range of motion following the prescribed protocol. An increase of 10 degrees was seen 2 minutes following the protocol and an increase of 8 degrees was found after 10 minutes. It was also found that force production was not affected as a result of the foam rolling exercises.

What can we take from it?

The article clearly addresses the lack of data available with regards to the use of foam rolling as a recovery tool for athletes, and is an interesting read for anyone who works in, or is currently studying in this field. The article clearly states that foam rolling is beneficial to range of motion at the knee without a loss of force production, suggesting similar benefits as static stretching. With the popularity of static stretching decreasing, this article infers that foam rolling could possibly replace static stretching.

The study is an interesting one as foam rolling is still very poorly researched when considering how widely used it is within the industry. It’s interesting to see that rather than using common foam rollers, the researchers chose to use purpose-made rollers instead. As such, it would be beneficial to see the results of the same protocol following the use of regular rollers as opposed to the custom ones used here. The researchers were aware of the possible issues within the protocol and made future recommendations as a result which would be interesting to read upon should data become available in the future.

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