Chances are, foam rolling is already a part of your health and fitness regimen, especially if your goal is to prevent injuries. The hurt-so-good, tension-relieving gadget has gained steam over recent years, and rightfully so since it provides the same benefits—without the high price tag—as getting an intense sports massage.
This is why many avid gymgoers and athletes use foam rollers as a tool to aid in injury prevention. The thought process is simple: Loosen the fascia, prevent the injury. But according to a new study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, foam rolling is more beneficial as part of a performance warmup than it is in preventing injuries.
From increased mobility to improving circulation, what makes a foam roller so effective is how it improves fascia mobility. Simply put, fascia is a form of connective tissue that is integrated throughout the body (similar to a spider’s web) and is in and around all of the body’s tissues.
When fascia is restricted, adhesions form which can cause a limited range of motion, soreness, and even injury. It doesn’t take much for fascia to become restricted, either. Exercise, poor chronic posture, injury, nutrition, health status, and, yes, age have an impact on overall fascia health.
What the Authors Learned About Foam Rolling
In the study, 45 participants used a foam roller for 90 seconds (3 sets of 30 seconds each) and experienced an increased range of motion for up to 30 minutes, but the stiffness returned soon after. The conclusion was: Foam rolling increased the range of motion and temporarily reduced stiffness but did not prepare the muscle itself for exercise, as a cardio-type warmup would do.
But pair foam rolling with a proper warm-up such as active stretching and a light jog, and your risk of injury can be reduced.
Dr. John House, a lead chiropractic physician at The Joint Chiropractic in Winter Park, Florida, advises many of his patients to use foam rollers as a part of their at-home therapy routine. He believes foam rollers help aid in the injury-prevention process but not by themselves. “Injury prevention should not be reduced to one option, but should be viewed as a multi-faced approach.” House says. “Good nutrition, proper form, and cross-training are just a few ways to aid in injury prevention.”
Foam rolling has also been shown to complement other therapies when used in conjunction with one another. “Based on my clinical experience, foam rolling can complement the treatment of TFL syndrome, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, patellar femoral tendonitis, and Achilles tendonosis to name a few.” House says.
While the study questions foam rolling’s overall ability as an injury-prevention tool isn’t a reason to dismiss the practice altogether. Instead for a total injury-prevention routine, make sure
it’s paired with other injury prevention methods such as warming up properly, stretching, proper nutrition, and cooldowns following your workout.
Now is the perfect time to double-check your health and fitness regimen as a whole and add-in the necessary components to a proper injury prevention routine. That includes keeping a foam-rolling routine.