|New tools are regularly being introduced in the world of fitness. Many making
claims to improve flexibility and range of motion. The foam roller exercises
around for many years, used by physical therapists in myofascial release and
for exercises on an unstable surface to rehabilitate balance,
proprioception, and core strength.
Physiologically we can explain the increase in range of motion after using the
foam roller as a result of stimulation of the golgi tendon organ causing muscles to relax. In terms of
physics we see that the direction of force applied easily increases the length
of the structure being stretched and shearing forces exerted on the fascia can
break adhesions. By stimulating blood flow it aids in circulation and
What is a foam roller?
How can I use the foam roll?
What is self myofascial release?
The physics of stretching on the foam roll
When should I use the foam roller?
Foam roller exercises' effects on blood flow.
Adhesions can form within and between fascial layers after trauma or periods of inflammation. Trigger points can form within the muscles resulting in pain and tension. Self myofascial release is simply the myofascial release techniques that one can do without aid of a professional. Click here for information on myofascial pain, and its management.
Simply said, we have neural receptors located at the junction of the muscles and tendons that can detect the change in tension in a muscle and the rate of that change. When that receptor is stimulated it causes a reflexive relaxation in that muscle. Using foam roller exercises assists in this allowing you to move a muscle into a greater length. For more information on the physiology click here.
I If we have a rope that has a length 2a
III and exert a force on the centre of it so as to displace it by 2 cm while the two ends remain fixed. The entire rope gets longer by a distance 2c.
III This is the force diagram. Once movement is complete, F is equal to 2 beta and theta is the final angle of displacement.
IV Solving for c:
a2 + d2 = (a+c)2
V If we punch in some numbers where
d = 2 cm (pushing into the muscle 2 cm depth)
a = 15 cm (2a = the length of an average hamstring)
Therefore, in very simplistic terms we can see that very little force is required to create additional lengthening in an already lengthened muscle. The application of enough force to cause only 2 cm displacement of a 30 cm long hamstring will result in a lengthening of an additional 1.33 mm. This is assuming the ends of the muscle stay a constant distance apart, the angles of adjacent joints remain constant during the application of the force. The shorter the muscle, the greater the lengthening with 2 cm of displacement. This of course is a very difficult thing to do, but in theory helps explain some of the benefits of using a perpendicular force on a muscle to assist in lengthening it or at least helping it relax by the above mentioned physiological means.
As you can see there is little in the way of standardized guidelines with research evidence to support it's use, when, how, and with how much pressure. Why and how you are using the foam roller will likely determine its effect on performance later.
1. GZ MacDonald, MDH Penney, ME Mullaley, AL Cuconato, CDJ Drake, DG Behm, DC Button. An Acute Bout of Self Myofascial Release Increases Range of Motion Without a Subsequent Decrease in Muscle Activation or Force. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research:
March 2013 Volume 27,3 p 812-821.
2. KC Healey, DL Hatfield, P Blanpied, LR Dorfman, D Riebe. The Effects of Self Myofascial Release with Foam Rolling on Performance. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. Post acceptance April 2013.
3. T Okamoto, M Masuhara, K Ikuta. Acute Effects of Self Myofascial Release Using a Foam Roller on Arterial Function. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research:
Post acceptance, 9 April 2013