Are Foam Rollers for Muscle Massage Really Beneficial?

Laird Harrison


July 08, 2015

In This Article

Enhanced Anaerobic Power?

If self-myofascial release doesn’t increase aerobic capacity, it might still increase anaerobic power. A team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin in Eau Claire presented findings that addressed this question at ACSM as well.[5]

In their study, 19 college-aged men performed four Wingate tests, in which they pedaled as fast as they could for 30 seconds on an ergometer.

They completed one test after no self-myofascial release. They then completed one trial each after using foam rollers to massage their quadriceps, hamstrings, and iliotibial bands—as well as their hip abductor, gluteus maximus, hip flexor, and gastrocnemius muscle groups—for either 30 seconds, 60 seconds, or 90 seconds each.

There were no statistically significant differences in absolute power, relative peak power, minimum peak power, average power, or power drop in the four trials.

"Some previous studies saw an increase in power output with myofascial stretching," says lead author Aleksander Hansen, a student at Wisconsin. "What we found is that it doesn’t do anything."

But, he added, other studies have found encouraging results on range of motion.

Improved Range of Motion?

Researchers at DeSales University in Center Valley, Pennsylvania, expanded on the range-of-motion findings in another ACSM presentation.[6] The previous studies focused on immediate improvements. The DeSales researchers wanted to know how long these effects lasted.

They coached 19 college students through dynamic stretching and then measured the students' performance in a modified sit-and-reach test. In this test, subjects sit on the floor with their legs straight in front of them and reach as far forward as possible.

The researchers assigned one group of students to massage themselves using foam rollers and another group to perform static stretching. Each group performed their routines three times a week for 4 weeks.

At the end of that time, both groups had increased the distance they could reach in the sit-and-reach test, but the changes were not significantly different between the two groups. Likewise, both groups adhered equally well to their routines.

Still, self-myofascial release may be worthwhile for some athletes, says lead author Jessica Watson, a student at DeSales. "It opens up new options for healthcare professionals to use," she believes.

If nothing else, the mechanism of self-myofascial release may differ from static stretching, releasing adhesions in the fascia rather than lengthening muscle fibers, she says.

"If someone is complaining of pain and tightness," she adds, "I would be more likely to recommend foam rolling."


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