Muscle Foam Rollers: Are they useful?
Nurse Susan provides an overview of the use of Muscle Foam Rollers.
Muscle foam rollers are a hot topic these days, and their effectiveness is highly debated if not controversial. Muscle foam rollers are a dense foam cylinder which is used as a stretching and or massaging device. They are said to be great after a long hard workout or while nursing a deep muscle injury. They are meant to provide what is called myofascial release by applying pressure to the myofascial connective tissue to improve flexibility while reducing and eliminating pain. Research by Laimi, K. et al. (2017)  concluded that there is still inconclusive evidence. However, many professional trainers and athletes are turning to this method of injury prevention and healing.
Using a muscle foam roller can potentially offer sustained flexibility. It also gives a person the power of having their in-home massage session while being able to control the pressure and pressure points. Some say that this gives a more intuitive path to healing and allows the injured person the control instead of the massage therapist. According to a summary on Scienceforsport.com, recent investigations state that muscle foam rollers improve athletic performance, flexibility, and recovery. The word around locker rooms and training tables is that the use of muscle foam rollers increases the range of motion and enhances muscle performance. Scientific knowledge is expanding. However, the exact effects and or benefits of foam rolling, and myofascial release are undefined as of now.
When to Use a Muscle Foam Roller
Ideally, you would want to use a muscle foam roller after a workout to release any tension built up inside the muscles. Research by Pearcey, G. E. P. et al. (2015)  found it will also alleviate the lactic acid that builds up inside muscles during a workout. Relieving lactic acid will decrease healing time and soreness attained from pumping iron or other high-intensity exercises. Pearcey and his colleagues found that using a foam roller significantly helped muscle tenderness for days after the muscles were tired.
Another great time to use the foam roller would be after sustaining a deep tissue or deep muscle bruise. A textured muscle foam roller can be as effective as a deep tissue massage by loosening knotted muscle fibres and tissue after a sports-related injury. Or even after a long restless night of tossing and turning in bed. One thing a muscle foam roller could do is help get the precise pressure point needed to get rid of the swelling and inflammation due to an injury. Using a muscle foam roller can attain myofascial release, which is the loosening up of fibrous tissue and muscles by applying them with pressure.
Foam rollers are thought to be a great technique to warm-up and stretch the muscle before intense competition and exertion. Priming the muscles before any exercise helps prevent injuries and allows one to start the workout or game at a higher intensity level, instead of starting cold.
A foam roller could also be used for a nice stretch before going to bed to possibly relax the mind and body promoting a good night's sleep.
Who Could Use a Muscle Foam Roller?
Muscle foam rollers could be used by almost any athlete looking to improve their stretching routine possibly. They could also be used by any person involved in recreational sports or a daily exercise program. Stretching is an integral part of fitness and even everyday life. The more flexibility a person has, the less likely they are to be injured. Obtaining an adequate level of flexibility may be just as crucial to non-athletes or those that aren't very active, especially later in life.
As far as athletes go, professional hockey players and runners seem to be at the top of the list when it comes to implementing muscle foam rollers into their daily or weekly routines. They use them for both pre and post-competition or practice. Hockey players deal with constant body-checks (being slammed up against the boards), and they throw themselves in front of 100 miles an hour slapshots. Runners deal with the stress of their body's pounding the concrete for an hour or more. These sports take a toll and consistently make your body sore.
Rick Szuber, an assistant to the training staff for the Detroit Red Wings, says, "The players on the team have used basic muscle foam rollers and also use rollers with vibrators built-in nowadays."
Everyone involved in a regular intense or moderately intense gym routine or exercise program could benefit from foam rollers. This means Monday to Friday gym rats and weekend warriors. Or those involved in cardio step classes or recreational sports as a form of high-intensity exercise. Muscle foam rollers are certainly worth a try and may even prove beneficial as an addition to regular stretching routines.
How to Use a Muscle Foam Roller
Some Things to Keep in Mind
There should be mild discomfort when using a muscle foam roller. It will not feel great or soothing. However, this means the exercise is doing its job, and the body is being stimulated in the right way. The tissues are being worked on, and blood circulation is increasing. All muscle foam rolling exercises should be performed at a moderate to slow pace, and each individual should monitor themselves accordingly. One should always consult their physician before making changes or starting any exercise program.
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About the Author
Nurse Susan has always been passionate about helping people heal. After she retired from a lifelong career as a nurse, that passion did not go away. She loves to use her expertise to write about the best ways to keep you and your family healthy, active, and happy.
The following Sports Coach pages provide additional information on this topic: