How To Use Foam Rollers to Decrease Pain and Improve Recovery From Exercise

What is Foam Rolling

foam rolling calf muscles
Foam Rolling is a form of self-massage also called self-myofascial release (SMFR). Foam rolling is performed by rolling your muscles over a dense cylinder like foam called a foam roller for several minutes with the goal to help with pain relief and improve muscle recovery from exercise. SMFR can be done using other tools like massage balls, massage rollers, massage guns, and massage blades. But one question remains for many, does foam rolling actually work.

 How can Foam Rolling help you with Exercise

The research is clear, foam rolling can be beneficial for many things regarding exercises. From multiple systematic reviews and analysis of over 50 research articles on the effects of foam rolling it has been concluded that foam rolling prior to exercise or athletic performance can:
  • 1: Have a short-term improvement on sprint performance
  • 2: Have short term improvement on flexibility

Foam rolling after exercise or athletic performance can:
  • 1: Decrease sensation of pain, improve perception of pain, and decrease delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)
  • 2: Improve recovery from exercise at a greater rate than passive recovery

Research also suggest that a combination of foam rolling with stretching post exercise may improve these benefits. However, from research it remains unclear how foam rolling actually works physiologically. It has been hypothesized that it may improve blood flow of the muscle, break up trigger points and fascial restriction within the muscle, and even desensitize or heighten muscle receptor neurological function.

 How to Foam Roll Properly

Research suggest that a foam rolling session should last anywhere from 10-20 minutes in total. One should focus on each body part for at least 30 seconds -1 minute for to 2-5 sets. Rolling should be performed in slow back and forth motions on foam roller, but positions can be held for 30 seconds- 1 minute if you find spots in the muscle to be particularly “stimulating” or painful. The intensity of the foam rolling is controlled by how much body weight an individual uses while applying pressure to the foam roller.

Foam Rolling Lateral Quad Muscle

Foam Rolling Lat Muscle

Foam Rolling Calf Muscles

Foam Rolling Upper Back Muscles

Foam Rolling Glutes and Piriformis Muscles

Different Types of Foam Rollers

So there are several different types of foam rollers depending on how intense or targeted you want the foam rolling to be. So the less dense and smoother a foam roller the less intense foam rolling will be. Foam rollers that are more dense, have ridges and spikes can provide a more intense foam rolling experience.  If you are interested in trying foam rolling out for pain relief and to aid your exercise recovery, you can conveniently buy a foam roller on amazon or at any health or sporting store.


Cheatham S, Kolber M, Cain M, Lee M: The Effects of Self-Myofascial Release Using A Foam Roll or Roller Massager on Joint Range of Motion, Muscle Recover, And Performance: A Systematic Review. Int J Sports Phys Ther 2015, 10: 827-838

Chris, B., Škarabot, J: Effects of Self-Myofascial Release: A Systematic Review. Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies 2015,

 Wiewelhove T, Döweling A, Schneider C, Hottenrott L, Meyer T, Kellmann M, Pfeiffer M, Ferrauti A: A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Foam Rolling on Performance and Recovery. Frontiers in Physiology 2019, 10:  

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