As I sell foam rollers on a daily basis, and also utilise them in my professional life as a physiotherapist, I am often asked - "do they really work?". Now, years of anecdotal evidence across the health and fitness would suggest that they undoubtedly work. Professional and olympic athletes, weekend warriors, physiotherapists, personal trainers, strength and conditioning coaches all vouch for the effectiveness of this beloved device! However, for those with a scientific mind, subjective reports are often not enough. Therefore, we need scientific research to support these widespread claims.
New Self Myofascial Release Research
Macdonald et al. (2012) studied the acute effects of self myofascial release (SMR) of the quadriceps muscles with a high density foam roller
in 11 healthy male patients on the following variables:
- Quadriceps maximum voluntary contraction force
- Twitch force
- Tetanic force
- Electromyography (EMG)
- Knee joint ROM
- Perceived pain
The authors utilised a cross-over trial design i.e. one time with the SMR and one time without, to establish differences between the 2 conditions.
So, What Did They Find?
The study showed some good positive results for the use of the foam roller. This included:
- Increased knee ROM by > 10%
- The subjects who had high perceived levels of pain at baseline were able to produce greater forces following the SMR
Furthermore, the SMR did not seem to negatively impact the produce of force (i.e. no difference between the control group and intervention group). This contrasts the previously reported acute effects of static stretching on force production (Marek et al., 2005).
What Technique Was Used?
The study utilised two, one minute trials of self myofascial release, which would have been similar to the video below.
Limitations of The Research
As with any research, there are going to be limitations, and this is not to criticise the researchers, just to make those of you who do not read the research or are unfamiliar with it, are more aware of the positives and negatives. The methodological limitations to this research includes:
- Small sample size of only 11 subjects
- Male participants only
- Subjects were healthy
- No long term follow up
- No blinding of participants (difficult/impossible) or assessors
These limitations, fortunately, open the door for a bunch of more research! As is often the case, clinical practice is ahead of the research. I, for one, cannot wait for it to catch up!
What Size Will Be Most Useful?
Given that you are going to cover a medium to large sized area i.e. the quadriceps, the best product for this condition would be:
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Macdonald G, Penney M, Mullaley M, Cuconato A, Drake C, Behm DG, Button DC. An acute bout of self myofascial release increases range of motion without a subsequent decrease in muscle activation or force. J Strength Cond Res. 2012. Marek SM, Cramer JT, Fincher AL, Massey LL, Dangelmaier SM, Purkayasatha S, Fitz KA, Culbertson JY. Acute effects of static and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching on muscle strength and power output. J Athl Train 2005;40(2):94–103. Photo Credit: