Foam Rolling has become extremely popular, both among athletes and the general population. A foam roller can be found in warm-ups, cool-downs and recovery sessions.
At the last few schools I worked at, during the season, a foam roller and stretch band were even located in each meeting room so guys could grab them and use them whenever they wanted.
More and more research continues to be done on the effects on the muscle when using a foam roller, like self-myofascial release, soft tissue elasticity and pain threshold. One such recent study by Konrad, A., Nakamura, M., Tilp, M. et al. performed a meta-analysis of eleven different research studies looking at the effect of foam rolling on increasing range of motion.
So, what did the study find? Does using a foam roller help increase range of motion?
In this article, I’m going to do my best to both summarize and explain the results of the study in plain English.
The analysis was able to compare how long each individual study was performed, 4 weeks or less versus more than 4 weeks. It was also able to look specifically at different muscles tested across the studies, namely the hamstrings, quadriceps and triceps surae. (The Triceps Surae refers to the calf, not the more well-known Triceps on the back of the arm)
Out of the 290 participants studied, there was a mean age of 23.9 (+/- 6.3 years).
There has already been an in-depth analysis showing the positive acute (short-term) effects of foam rolling, specifically when compared to stretching. In these studies, foam rolling has been shown to be just as effective in increasing joint range of motion (ROM) prior to a workout without some of the decreases in power performance that prolonged static stretching can cause.
This meta-analysis was specifically trying to find if long-term improvements have been found using foam rolling.
If you’re here just for the cliff notes version, here you go.
Yes, Foam Rolling can increase joint ROM in young, healthy adults.
Results were significantly better for studies that lasted longer than four weeks compared to four weeks or shorter. This tells us that a longer, consistent regimen of foam rolling is more beneficial. In fact, the interventions that were four weeks or shorter showed no significant ROM increases compared to the control group.
Results were significantly better on the hamstrings and quadriceps versus the effects of the triceps surae on ankle dorsiflexion.
The paper theorized that one possibility is it’s harder to apply as much pressure to the calves as compared to the hamstrings or quadriceps and this could lead to less of an effect. Based on other studies, stretching may be more effective in increasing ankle range of motion.
Based on these results, should you include foam rolling into a comprehensive training program to help improve joint range of motion? Absolutely, yes.
Here are a few more notes that I wrote down that I found interesting. Maybe you will too.
Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria
The inclusion and exclusion criteria (what studies the researchers decided to use versus throw out) included leaving out any studies that were shorter than two weeks in duration. They also did not include any studies where both foam rolling and stretching were used in combination.
This means that every study used, even the ones that were four weeks or less, was at least two weeks long and focused solely on foam rolling as a means of increasing range of motion. (8 weeks was the longest of the studies)
Duration and Number of Foam Rolling Sessions
Looking specifically at the studies that showed an improvement in range of motion (over four weeks), four were 8 weeks long, one was 7 weeks, one was 6 weeks and two were 5 weeks. Training sessions per week were either two or three sessions. Session length ranged anywhere from 20 seconds to 3 minutes.
More Research Needed
The researchers suggested future studies still need to be done examining the effects of foam rolling. They noted that due to the limited amount of studies available, they were not able to focus on particular areas of interest like sex (male vs female), age (specifically older populations) and activity level of participants, rolling intensity and rolling frequency.
They also suggested that future studies should examine the effects of a “high volume foam-rolling intervention, the effects of a vibration foam-rolling intervention, the contralateral effects of foam rolling, the possible differences in intramuscular responses (e.g., calf vs quadriceps rolling), strength-based effects (e.g., maximum torque values), and the mechanism underpinning increases in ROM.”
If you’re already including foam rolling into your training plan then keep it up. Consistent foam rolling over a long duration is shown to increase range of motion. This is a huge benefit for both athletes and general population.
If you’re not foam rolling, then you may want to seriously consider adding a few minutes of foam rolling to your workout plan a couple of times a week.
Konrad, A., Nakamura, M., Tilp, M. et al. Foam Rolling Training Effects on Range of Motion: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-022-01699-8