Foam Rolling…When and Why You Should Use it?

Written by Joe Capogrosso PT, DPT, Montvale Clinic Manager at Excel Orthopedic Physical Therapy

Are you sitting around at work or school and feeling as though your muscles are tight and stiff? Do you experience some aches and pains in your ankles, knees, hips, back or shoulders when you go for a run? If so, what are you currently doing to take care of that feeling and prevent it from getting worse? Have you thought about foam rolling? Do you know when to use it, why to use it and for how long?

What is Foam Rolling?

Foam rolling or self-myofascial release is a great way to warm up your body and increase mobility thus, in turn, helping your body feel less stiff and ready to take on any activity that comes your way. Foam rolling has been around since the late 1980’s, and its popularity continues to grow.  It can be seen everywhere; at your local exercise gym, with celebrity personal trainers, on the sidelines of major sporting events, and most likely at any physical therapy clinic.  It is a popular tool to utilize as it is inexpensive and can easily be performed at home. The actual action of laying on a foam roller and rolling out specific parts of your body is rather uncomfortable; however, you tend to feel pretty good after using it.  In addition, there is a vast amount of current research on the use of foam rolling with positive results.  So, when and why should you think about introducing foam rolling into your rehab routine or exercise regimen?

How Does It Help?

Foam rolling (also known as self-myofascial release) may be beneficial for enhancing joint flexibility as a pre-exercise warm-up, cool down, or for both as found in a systematic review performed in 2015. The time and duration recommended for optimal results during foam rolling was 30 seconds to 1 minute, 2-5 times, or using a roller massager for five seconds to two minutes, 2-5 times. 

Foam rolling may also help decrease delayed onset muscle soreness that can accompany exercise – specifically with higher intensity exercises. Research has shown that those who use a foam roller or roller massage intervention for 10-20 minutes after performing high-intensity exercise reduces the gradual decrease in quality of lower extremity muscle performance which is normally caused by delayed onset muscle soreness. 

In addition, continued foam rolling for 20 minutes per day over 3 days may further decrease pain levels and perceived pain levels. Using a roller massager for 10 minutes may reduce pain for up to 30 minutes. Foam rolling helps release trigger points which helps reestablish proper movement patterns and therefore decreases aches and pains experienced throughout multiple joints in your body.

Foam rolling has not been shown to actually enhance any muscle performance but it has been found that people who foam roll experience a perception of less muscle fatigue.

The most common thought process on how foam rolling improves range of motion and how it decreases the perception of “tightness” is rooted in neurology.  There are many nerve receptors in the human body that respond to touch, pressure, stretch, or tension (among other stimuli).  These receptors are located in various different tissues (with the skin having quite a dense concentration different receptors).  By activating of some of these receptors, foam rolling may induce a feeling of improved pain or perception of being less tight.


Bottom Line

  • Foam rolling most likely activates nerve receptors in the skin, fascia, and muscle to produce the observed or (perceived) effects.
  • We still do not know precisely why it works, but we do know that it does work and should be utilized as part of your daily routine
  • Foam rolling helps increase joint range of motion in the short term when performed for 30-60 seconds, 2-5 times per day at a moderate pace (think 1 inch of rolling per second).
  • Foam rolling decreases delayed onset muscle soreness when performed for 20 minutes following strenuous exercise.
  • Foam rolling does not improve muscle performance or output but does decrease perceived muscle fatigue

Hopefully, this brief overview helps provide a more informed perspective on foam rolling and self-myofascial release. it is important to understand that foam rolling’s proposed mechanisms are still theoretical and can benefit from further study.  All-in-all, foam rolling and self-myofascial release work as per the literature, but don’t go crazy making your entire gym or rehab session about it. 

If you are curious as to whether foam rolling can benefit your muscle tightness or decrease your aches and pains, then seek out a physical therapist’s advice and they can teach you exactly how to foam roll correctly for your specific body. You can find and schedule a physical therapy appointment with Joe Capogrosso from Excel physical therapy through the BetterPT website and mobile app in addition to hundreds of other quality clinics in your area! Don’t wait to enhance your exercise routine and start feeling better! You can schedule physical therapy without a doctor’s prescription through direct access physical therapy and learn all about how foam rolling can benefit you. 

Dr. Joseph Capogrosso minored in biology at Rutgers University New Brunswick campus and received his BS in Exercise Science. His goal for his patients: to provide a superior physical therapy experience from the moment you walk in the door to the moment you leave. He also enjoys writing for EXCEL Physical Therapy and in his own blog,, where he discusses physical therapy and healthcare in general. 

Share this post:

Need physical therapy?

Discover physical threapy clinics near you and request an appointment right away!