Does foam rolling really work?



Foam rolling (Self Myofascial Release- SMR) is becoming quite popular.

Many fitness facilities have Foam Rollers (preferably Grids) and they are available at most sporting goods stores.

Is there really any benefit to this?

What are the potential mechanisms behind any benefits?

Advocates of SMR promote it as a recovery tool after training and  propose that it corrects muscular imbalances, alleviates muscle soreness, relieves joint stress, improves neuromuscular efficiency, and enhances range of motion (ROM).

SMR has been used in several different rehabilitation and training programs to help promote soft tissue extensibility, enhance joint ROM, and promote optimal joint functioning.

In is an intricate part of my corrective exercise and performance enhancement prescriptions.

Many individuals experience exercise-induced muscle damage resulting in delayed onset muscle soreness after intense resistance or endurance training, which is characterized by:

•             Soreness

•             Swelling

•             Temporary muscle damage

•             Muscle tension

•             Decreased strength & range of motion


Exercise-induced muscle damage can also affect neuromuscular efficiency by altering muscle length-tension relationships, sequencing and recruitment patterns, and joint function, resulting in dysfunctional stress on muscles, tendons and joints.


So what does the research show?

A group of scientists collaborated on a study to substantiate if SMR was an effective tool to aid in recovery from an intense bout of physical activity and identify the potential mechanisms.

They specifically looked at the effects on muscle soreness, muscle contractile properties, vertical jump, and range of motion.

Twenty physically active resistance-trained subjects were assigned into a control or SMR group.

The volunteers performed 10 sets of 10 reps of squats at 60% 1RM (1 repetition max) that was designed to cause exercise-induced muscle damage.

Testing sessions were done immediately after the squat protocol and again at 24, 48 and 72h after.

The only difference was that one group performed a 20-min of SMR at the end of each testing session.

The SMR protocol consisted of five different exercises targeting major muscle groups of the thigh and gluteal muscles.

The results demonstrated that SMR substantially reduced muscle soreness at all-time points while considerably improving range of motion.

In addition, SMR markedly improved muscle activation at all-time points and vertical jump at 48 h time point after the squat protocol.


This was a landmark study that examined the potential physiological mechanisms regarding the recovery benefits seen with SMR that have previously been postulated.

The most crucial findings of this research was that SMR improved dynamic movement, muscle activation, and both passive and dynamic range of motion, while decreasing muscle soreness.

Some key findings of this research were:


  • SMR is effective at decreasing muscle inflammation and   soreness and at reducing adhesions   between layers of fascia.
  • SMR can enhance muscle activation
  • SMR improved both passive and dynamic range of motion
  • SMR allows for maintenance of natural muscle sequencing and recruitment patterns needed for optimal performance

The authors of this study speculate that SMR provides recovery benefits primarily through the treatment of connective tissue and can be considered to be helpful in the recovery of connective tissue injuries, soft tissue pain and performance enhancement.


 So what are you waiting for? Roll (SMR) a joint!


Macdonald, G.Z., et al., Foam rolling as a recovery tool after an intense bout of physical activity. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2014. 46(1): p. 131-42.

For information on upcoming SMR classes, please contact our office.

About the Author

Dr. Geoff LecovinNaturopathic Physician/Chiropractor/Acupuncturist/Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist/Corrective Exercise Specialist/Performance Enhancement Specialist/Certified Sports Nutritionist/View all posts by Dr. Geoff Lecovin