- Foam rollers can relax and stretch out fascia, the connective tissue around muscles, thereby reducing muscle soreness, pain, and risk of injury.
- Research indicates that foam rolling might be an effective warm-up before exercising that can lead to increased flexibility, sprint performance.
- Foam rolling has also been shown to help relieve symptoms of fibromyalgia.
- This article was medically reviewed by Joey Thurman, CSCS, CPT, FNS, a Chicago-based fitness expert and MYX Fitness coach.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
A foam roller can be used to massage different parts of your body, such as the lower back, hips, and calves.
By slowly rolling those areas across the top of the tube-shaped roller, you can help reduce muscle soreness, increase your range of motion, and aid in the management of fibromyalgia symptoms, among other benefits.
Here’s what you need to know about foam rolling and how to get started.
What is foam rolling?
A foam roller is a tube-shaped piece of foam used for self-myofascial release (MFR), a type of self-massage that is also referred to as myofascial foam rolling.
Your body is filled with fibrous connective tissue known as fascia. In particular, muscles are surrounded, supported, and invested by fascia, says Joy Puleo, Program Manager at Balanced Body Education.
As a result, if this connective tissue — this fascia — becomes dehydrated, tight, or loses its elasticity, your muscles may become sore or injured.
That’s where foam rolling can help. Foam rolling, when done correctly, targets the fascia thereby reducing the risk of it becoming tight or inelastic. Here are three benefits you may gain from foam rolling:
1. Foam rolling may reduce muscle soreness
“When connective tissue gets bound, tight, or rigid, important nutrients, hydration, blood flow, and circulation can be restricted,” says Puleo. Foam rolling is an active way to break up some of the mechanical tightness of the connective tissue and help alleviate these issues.
This practice can release tension, increase proprioception (how you perceive your body position and movement), and extend the range of motion in your joints, says Puelo.
You can choose to foam roll whenever it’s most convenient, but some research suggests that doing it before a workout as a warm-up activity may be especially beneficial because it’s been shown to increase flexibility, sprint performance, and reduce muscle pain during the workout.
Puleo recommends foam rolling before a workout, as well as in the morning upon waking up or in the evening prior to bedtime.
2. Foam rolling can increase joint range of motion
Puleo says that foam rolling can help extend your joint range of motion by offering a form of release to bound or rigid tissues, as well as the muscles surrounding those tissues and joints.
Joint range of motion describes the direction and distance in which a joint or body part normally moves. Muscle injuries, like a torn ACL, can reduce your range of motion and make it more difficult to perform daily tasks without pain or soreness.
A small 2015 study found the most effective way to increase joint range of motion was a combination of static stretching and foam rolling. Together they were more effective than either foam rolling or static stretching alone.
3. Foam rolling helps manage fibromyalgia symptoms
Fibromyalgia is a disorder that affects nearly 4 million adults in the US and causes widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, sleep problems, and more. But foam rolling has been shown to help alleviate some of the symptoms of this debilitating disorder.
For example, a small 2017 study had participants with fibromyalgia foam roll for 20 weeks and found that — by the end of the 20 weeks — they reported a number of improvements including:
- An increase in range of motion
- Less fatigue and stiffness
- A reduced incidence of depression or sadness
When choosing a foam roller for patients with fibromyalgia, Puleo says she likes to use a soft roller.
“Once there is tolerance to lying on a roller, start gently,” she says. “The rolling will not only break up the binds [and] unwind the knots, but will also flush out the toxins and invite the good stuff ― nutrients, circulation, and hydration ― in.”
How to add foam rolling into your workout routine
The benefits of foam rolling vary from person to person. You might find it helps before workouts as a way to warm up. Others may want to do it in the morning to get ready for the day, or just before bed to help relax.
Puelo says that foam rolling can be incorporated into many physical activity plans, though she offers a number of tips and precautions to know before you start.
Tips on safe foam rolling include:
- Avoid rolling joints (elbows, knees, ankles).
- Avoid rolling over open wounds.
- Avoid foam rolling over any muscle breaks or tears.
Consult with a doctor before you try foam rolling if:
- You’re going through chemotherapy or have metastatic cancer.
- You are pregnant.
- You bruise easily.
- If you’re taking blood thinners.
Foam rolling is a generally safe practice that can help reduce muscle soreness and improve flexibility.
Foam rolling may help you warm up for a workout improve performance, and stretch muscles after exercising.
Foam rolling may be useful for people with fibromyalgia to manage symptoms such as pain, fatigue, stiffness, and incidence of depression or sadness.