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Muscle Foam Rollers: Are they helpful?

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 dense foam cylinders used as a stretching and or massaging device. They are said to be great after a long hard workout or while nursing a severe muscle injury. They are meant to provide 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) [1] concluded that there is still inconclusive evidence. However, many professional trainers and athletes are turning to this injury prevention and healing method.

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 controlling the pressure and pressure points. Some say 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, recent investigations state that muscle foam rollers improve athletic performance, flexibility, and recovery. The word around locker rooms and training tables is that muscle foam rollers increase the range of motion and enhance muscle performance. Scientific knowledge is expanding. However, the exact effects and or benefits of foam rolling and myofascial release are undefined.

When to Use a Muscle Foam Roller

Ideally, you would want to use a muscle foam roller to release any tension built up inside the muscles after a workout. Research by Pearcey, G. E. P. et al. (2015) [2] 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 colleagues found that using a foam roller significantly helped muscle tenderness for days after the muscles were tired.

Using a muscle foam roller can attain myofascial release, loosening up fibrous tissue and muscles by applying pressure. 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. Another great time to use the foam roller would be after sustaining a deep tissue or deep muscle bruise. Or even after a long restless night of tossing and turning in bed. A muscle foam roller could help get the precise pressure point needed to get rid of the swelling and inflammation due to an injury.

Foam rollers are 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 starts the workout or game at a higher intensity instead of starting cold.

A foam roller could be used for a nice stretch before going to bed to relax the mind and body, promoting a good night's sleep.

Who Could Use a Muscle Foam Roller?

Stretching is an integral part of fitness and even everyday life. 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. The more flexibility a person has, the less likely they will 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

  • Front Quad: Lie face down on the floor with the foam roller under the right hip flexor. Slowly roll down until just above the knee. Do this for a five-count each way for ten reps. Down and up is one rep. Switch legs and repeat.
  • Lateral Quad: Laying on the side of the right quad, start at the top of the quad and slowly roll down until just above the knee. Do this for a five-count each way for ten reps. Repeat with left leg.
  • Hamstrings: Start at the top of the right hamstring just below the glutes. Slowly roll down to the top of the calf with a five-count for ten reps. Repeat with left leg.
  • Abductors: Lying face down with the foam roller placed on the right inner thigh near your groin. Slowly roll halfway to the knee with a three count. Do ten times and repeat with the left leg.
  • Glutes: Sit on the roller with the right leg crossed to the left knee. Rolling side to side on the entire glute muscle using a three count for ten reps. Repeat with left glute.
  • Inner Shoulder Blades: Lying on the back with shoulder blades on top of the roller. Roll down from the top of the lat muscle to the bottom. Do a three count for ten reps.
  • Outer Shoulder Blade and Lat Muscle: Lying on the right side with the foam roller at the bottom of the armpit. Slowly roll up to the triceps for a three count for ten reps. Repeat with the left arm.

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.


  1. LAIMI, K. et al. (2017) Effectiveness of myofascial release in treatment of chronic musculoskeletal pain: a systematic review, Clin Rehabil.
  2. PEARCEY, G. E. P. et al. (2015) Foam Rolling for Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness and Recovery of Dynamic Performance Measures, J Athl Train, 50(1), p. 5–13.

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • SUSAN, N. (2018) Muscle Foam Rollers: Are they useful? [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

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 disappear. She loves to use her expertise to write about the best ways to keep you and your family healthy, active, and happy.