Are Foam Rollers for Muscle Massage Really Beneficial?

Laird Harrison


July 08, 2015

In This Article

Nine Studies With Mixed Results

The new research aims to discover whether self-myofascial release might have beneficial effects on athletic performance, injury prevention, or recovery.

Self-myofascial release takes two forms. In one, people lie on specially designed foam rollers or on small balls, including tennis balls, lacrosse balls, or balls specially designed for this purpose. They then manipulate their body weight to exert force on soft tissue. In the other form, individuals use a handheld roller to apply force on soft tissue using upper-body strength.

For the literature review, researchers at Ohio State University in Columbus found nine randomized controlled trials: six using foam rollers and three using handheld rollers. Their primary findings:

  • Three studies showed a positive effect on vertical jump height or maximal force output, but three others showed no change in such measures of muscle performance.

  • All five studies measuring range of motion showed an increase.

  • All three studies measuring muscle soreness or fatigue showed an improvement.

None of the studies showed that self-myofascial release actually impaired performance. That's significant, because research into static stretching—where an athlete extends and holds a muscle in a position of mild discomfort—has suggested temporary decrements in neuromuscular performance. This finding suggests that self-myofascial release might provide a better warm-up option than traditional stretching exercises.[3]

To amplify these findings, researchers presenting studies at the ACSM meeting looked at self-myofascial release from other perspectives.

Improved Aerobic Performance?

Dr Stroiney became interested in self-myofascial release when she was working at a running store while in graduate school. One of the store's products was the TriggerPoint™ Ultimate 6 Kit (TriggerPoint Performance; Durham, North Carolina) of rollers and balls. "They said if you do this before you run, it will improve your performance," Dr Stroiney recalls.

She decided to put this technique to the test.[4] She instructed 16 male recreational runners to run for 40 minutes on a treadmill at 75% of their aerobic capacity (VO2 peak). They ran once after resting for 20 minutes and once after using the rollers and balls to massage the following muscle groups: soleus, quadriceps, iliotibial band, iliopsoas, piriformis, and pectorals.

The men ran at 12.47 km/hour after resting and 12.57 km/hour after self-myofascial release. This difference was not statistically significant (P > .05).

Differences in blood lactate, heart rate, ventilatory efficiency, and rated perceived exertion also did not differ significantly between the two bouts.


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