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Roll Out

  • Bryan McCoury
  • 24 Jan 2019
  • Posted 6 months ago

Roll Out

By: Lindsay Taylor, MSH


A previous article discussed the importance of fascia within the human body in preparation to discuss myofascial release. If you have not checked out the article, click the link: ____ (include link) _____ to learn the importance of fascia in the human body for a clear insight on myofascial release.

Have you ever noticed anyone rolling over a piece of hard foam, shaped like a cylinder, and wondered what in the world are they doing? It is simply termed foam rolling and what they are doing is a self-myofascial release technique that focuses on freeing restriction of movement that originate in the soft tissue (fascia) of the human body. There are a variety of techniques used to release the fascia in the human body and with the jury still out on exactly how beneficial foam rollers are, the current article will discuss the science behind foam rolling, the purpose of foam rolling, and research-based evidence utilizing foam rolling as a self-myofascial release technique.

Foam rolling works as a self-myofascial release technique where one uses their own body weight to provide pressure on the foam roller (the body weight and the pressure one places on the foam roller act as a massage tool). However, given the lack of evidence connecting myofascial and/or self-myofascial release to change the fascia some researches refer to it as self-manual therapy. Whether you refer foam rolling as self-myofascial release technique or self-manual therapy, the true impact of foam rolling remains unclear because there is no constant criterion among clinicians or consistent technique to internally test the fascia of the human body. Tough et al. (2007) reviewed the literature and found that the diagnostic criteria used by clinicians and researchers to identify myofascial trigger points varied extremely widely (19 different criteria identified) and no consistent pattern to the choice of the diagnostic criteria or the combination. The evidence fascia can become restricted can be due to a multiple of reasons such as trauma, overuse, and inactivity, just to name a few. The body response by inflammation and if not addressed right away, the tissue will thicken, resulting in pain, increase of inflammation, irritation and possibly even muscular imbalances. The fascia will then bind to the skin and the muscle, decreasing the range of motion, blood flow, gas and/or nutrient exchange to the area of dysfunction.

The purpose of foam rolling is to aid in the recover and prevention of muscles that are prone to being overused. This technique can be used as a correctional stretching technique, to optimize movement, reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and to pinpoint tightness in trigger points (“tender spots in discrete, taut bands of hardened muscle that produce local and referred pain”) which makes the invisible underlying dysfunction(s) in those trigger points become visible. The methodology of foam rolling is to help release the binding of the fascia at those trigger points by reducing the localized myofascial tightness by stimulating the fascial mechanoreceptors to signal the central nervous system to alter activity of the muscle(s) below. Utilizing what we do know based on the science behind foam rolling and a little bit of physics, a non-scientific explanation of what comes to my mind when I think of what is believed to happen to the fascia when one is foam rolling is that, foam rolling potentially releases the fascia that binds to trigger point(s) is like removing a sticker on the windshield of a car. When a sticker is placed on a window, the adhesive binds to the window allowing the sticker to stay in place. Much like the fascia, as it binds to the muscle and skin there is a decrease in the range of movement of specific joint(s). To release the sticker from the window, depending on the adhesive and the length of time the sticker was bound to the window, the top layer may be easy to peel off but there is always adhesive that remains underneath. It is only with added pressure and friction to the ruminants that all the remaining sticker and adhesive will slowly begin to release from the window. After a while, there is no more ruminants of the adhesive stuck on the window. Therefore, when one lays on a foam roller, adding pressure and creating friction by moving back and forth over certain tender spot(s) the fascia, based upon the thickness of the fascia in an area begins to release (thicker fascia needs more pressure and time to release as compared to more think areas of fascia that is bound), decreasing pain and increasing movement, gas and nutrient exchange to the affected area.

The science of foam rolling remains controversial for multiple reasons. One reason is that there is not a true scan to detect dysfunction in the fascia, making it very hard to address a dysfunction. Ultrasounds are capable of detecting the fascia but with no current universal protocol on the factors to determine a true dysfunction in the fascia with solid evidence, therefore, more research is needed. Another reason for the jury to still be unknown are due to the potential mechanisms of myofascial release. A review by Weppler et. al. (2010) found that the mechanical models were the first proposed with the neurophysiological models being suggested only recently. The history of the proposed mechanism of myofascial release follows a similar patter to our understanding of the mechanisms of static stretching (a stretch held in a challenging but comfortable position for a period of time, usually somewhere between 10 to 30 seconds) identifying the mechanism of myofascial release as an altered sensation of increased stretch tolerance, however, remains to be seen, therefore, more research is needed. Despite the great confusion among experts on foam rolling not being entirely understood, there is great evidence to support the effectiveness of foam rolling for an increase in flexibility and to reduces DOMS and improve recovery. Some studies have even determined potential changes within the cardiovascular system.

Okamoto et. al. (2013), Kim et. al. (2014), Chan et. al. (2015) investigations concluded self-myofascial release may potentially: improve arterial stiffness, improve vascular endothelial function, reduce cortisol levels post exercise, increase parasympathetic activity, and reduce sympathetic activity. Multiple studies have determined, foam rolling does improve short-term (acute) flexibility for up to but no longer than 10-minute bouts and has also been shown to improve long-term (chronic) flexibility when it is performed on a regular basis. One systematic review concluded foam rolling may have short-term effects of increasing joint range of motion without decreasing muscle performance and may attenuate decrements in muscle performance and reduce perceived pain after an intense bout of exercise and short bouts of foam rolling prior to exercise has no negative affect on muscle performance. The existing literature does provide some evidence for utility of foam rolling methods to be used in clinical practice but the limitations should be considered. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning published a study on the foam roll as a tool to improve hamstring flexibility and found that flexibility of the hamstrings can be seen as an effective tool to increase hamstring flexibility within 4 weeks and the effects of foam rolling are comparable to the scientifically proven contract-relax PNF stretching method. In the Journal of Athletic Training, a controlled laboratory study examined the effects of foam rolling as a recovery tool post intense exercise protocol through assessment of pressure-pain threshold, sprint time, change of directional speed, power, and dynamic strength-endurance on 8 healthy, physically active males (age = 22.1 ± 2.5 years, height = 177.0 ± 7.5 cm, mass = 88.4 ± 11.4 kg). The subjects performed 2 conditions, separated by 4 weeks, involving 10 sets of 10 repetitions of back squats at 60% of their 1-repetition maximum, followed by either no foam rolling or 20 minutes of foam rolling immediately, 24, and 48 hours post exercise. The study conclusion determined, foam rolling substantially improved quadriceps muscle tenderness by a moderate to large amount in the days after fatigue, substantial effects ranged from small to large in sprint time, power, and dynamic strength-endurance. There is a current demand for more research on foam rolling, nonetheless, present literature does support foam rolling has positive effects on the human body.

Overall, foam rolling has become a significant part of athletic, rehabilitation and fitness enthusiasts during training regimen but the current literature on foam rolling continues to emerge. It is evident by the current literature that there has been shown to be a positive effect to the body when foam rolling is used as an intervention for self-myofascial release and does have positive effects regarding improvements in a variety of athletic qualities along with potential changes in the cardiovascular system. However, the human body tissue is way more resilient for myofascial release techniques to be considered a one and done fix. Foam rolling is not a one and done fixes all and does not work long-term, after just one session. Although there may be benefits after one session of foam rolling, using foam rolling over time will begin to create a change in the tissue although there is no standard test to determine exactly how the tissue changes, in time, you may potentially begin to see and feel a decrease in the stiffness of a joint, an increase in movement, possibly increase in strength and better recover time post-exercise.

If you have any questions regarding the information on the article, please stop by the front desk or talk to one of The Sports Centers certified personal trainers.

1.Jones, D. H., Kilgour, R. D., & Comtois, A. S. (2007). Test-retest reliability of pressure pain threshold measurements of the upper limb and torso in young healthy women. The Journal of Pain, 8(8), 650-656.[PubMed]

2.Tough, E. A., White, A. R., Richards, S., & Campbell, J. (2007). Variability of criteria used to diagnose myofascial trigger point pain syndrome—evidence from a review of the literature. The Clinical Journal of Pain, 23(3), 278-286.[PubMed]


4.Weppler, C. H., & Magnusson, S. P. (2010). Increasing muscle extensibility: a matter of increasing length or modifying sensation?. Physical Therapy, 90(3), 438-449.[PubMed]

5.Current Sports Medicine Reports: May/June 2015 - Volume 14 - Issue 3 - p 200–208; doi: 10.1249/JSR.0000000000000148; Training, Prevention, and Rehabilitation: Section Articles

6.Okamoto, T., Masuhara, M., & Ikuta, K. (2014). Acute Effects of Self-Myofascial Release Using a Foam Roller on Arterial Function. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 28(1), 69-73.[PubMed]

7.Kim, K., Park, S., Goo, B. O., & Choi, S. C. (2014). Effect of Self-myofascial Release on Reduction of Physical Stress: A Pilot Study. Journal of Physical Therapy Science, 26(11), 1779.[PubMed]

8.Chan, Y. C., Wang, T. J., Chang, C. C., Chen, L. C., Chu, H. Y., Lin, S. P., & Chang, S. T. (2015). Short-term effects of self-massage combined with home exercise on pain, daily activity, and autonomic function in patients with myofascial pain dysfunction syndrome. Journal of Physical Therapy Science, 27(1), 217-221 [Citation]

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10.Gregory E. P. Pearcey, David J. Bradbury-Squires, Jon-Erik Kawamoto, Eric J. Drinkwater, David G. Behm, Duane C. Button; J Athl Train. 2015 Jan; 50(1): 5–13. doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-50.1.0; PMCID: PMC4299735


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