How Beneficial Is Foam Rolling?
Published at 15 May 2019

The Evidence for Performance and Recovery Benefits of Foam Rolling


An Introduction to Foam Rolling

Foam rollers are now popular sports accessories - both around the home and in professional exercise facilities - providing a convenient method of performing self-massage before or after physical activity. Bu why would self-self-massage be beneficial?

With the additional stresses that sport places on our tendons and muscles, certain areas can become rapidly overloaded, tension points can develop, leading to an increased risk of injury. This is where foam rolling can help by assisting in reducing the risk of injury as well as promoting recovery after training.

Foam rollers come in different sizes and a variety of textures ranging from smooth to knobbly surfaces. Each style is effective in its function although if you are new to the concept of rolling it is worth starting with a smooth roller. As you progress in your use of a foam roller you will be able to transition to a different surface if you wish to. 

Scientific Evidence for Foam Rolling

As foam rolling is a relatively recent therapy there are not a great deal of studies, but the studies that have taken place provide some compelling evidence. In a 2015 review study looked at some specific questions about the practice of foam rolling:

Does foam rolling improve joint range of motion (ROM) without affecting muscle performance?

After an intense bout of exercise, does foam rolling enhance post-exercise muscle recovery and reduce delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS) after exercise?

Does foam rolling prior to activity affect muscle performance?

They discovered that foam rolling produced short-term gains in joint ROM without negatively affecting muscle performance. It also reduced DOMS after intense exercise. However, there appear to be no end-performance benefits of foam rolling prior to exercise.

Overall, conclusions were drawn highlighting that to obtain maximum benefits of foam rolling after exercise, the major muscle groups used during exercise (quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteal muscles in cyclists and runners for example), should be targeted around 24 to 48 hours following heavy exercise. 

Foam rolling for the whole body

Whilst it is very popular to target the major muscle used during your exercise, it is also essential to pay attention to the lower, mid and upper back , as well as the neck and shoulders too. This is due to the impact forces, which are dissipated throughout the body during foot strike, which predisposes joint structures and soft tissues higher up the body to physical stresses. The following is a list of areas on the body to target with your foam roller:




Gluteal muscle

Hip (front and outer)

Outer Thigh

Mid and Lower Back



Upper Back and Neck


When should I foam roll?

Before exercise is a good way to prepare for a warm up by targeting specific tight muscles and also after activity to assist in cool down. You may benefit from using the foam roller after extended periods of sitting i.e after a long car journey to reduce specific muscle tightness.

How long should I foam roll one particular area?

5 reps per body part over a 20-60 second period is effective for improving joint range of movement and m muscle soreness.

How often should I foam roll?

There is no limit to the frequency of rolling, therefore if an area is tight from training you may want to increase your rolling frequency (up to daily sessions). Be proactive and use a roller before and after training sessions rather than simply when a muscle or tendon becomes painful.

If it hurts should I continue?

Rolling can be somewhat painful when excessive tightness is present but it shouldn’t stop you. He time to avoid foam rolling is if an area of skin is red, hot or swollen - indicating an acute soft tissue injury rather than just soreness. For this ice is more effective than foam rolling.

The more time you spend on your foam roller the more you will benefit and the easier it will become.

Do I need to roll throughout the body every time I use the roller?

Certain sporting movements place demands on specific areas and these should be targeted frequently. It is good practice however to target the whole body on a regular basis (once a week) to manage muscle balance, and to identify any areas of tightness.



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