Do Foam Rollers Reduce Muscle Soreness?
I studied Product Design (BSc) at Leeds University. For my final year project my brief was to design a product that “aids an athletes muscular recovery after intensive exercise”. I spent the first half of my final year conducting primary and secondary research looking into existing recovery solutions and their effectiveness.
I found that the most popular form of muscular recovery was myofascial release, a form of soft tissue therapy used to improve muscle mobility and reduce soreness. The principle of myofascial release is applied in many ways, such as; massage, foam rolling and trigger point therapy etc. It is a topic surrounded by controversy as little evidence points to it being effective. In 2011, the UK Advertising Standards Authority received a complaint challenging the claim that myofascial release is effective at treating muscle soreness on a brochure produced by the Myofascial Release UK health care service. The ASA concluded that the claims made on the brochure and the research performed behind them was insufficient to form a “body of robust scientific evidence” (Advertising Standards Authority 2011).
The reason for this decision could be due to inconsistent research findings. Some studies have found mild improvements in muscle soreness following massage (Zainuddin et al, 2015) (Tiidus and Shoemaker, 1995) & (Smith et al, 1994). Some found that massage had no benefit at all (Lightfoot et al, 1997) & (Robertson et al, 2004) and some found both positives and negatives (Rodenburg et al, 1994). These inconsistencies could be due to the aforementioned studies using small participant groups or studying the effects of myofascial release on different muscles.
It is a wonder how products orientated around the principle of myofascial release have been so successful in recent years. This popularity could be due to strong branding, the vast number of celebrity endorsements or the relative affordability of the product. Men’s Health have been promoting the use of foam rollers for years and only in their July 2016 issue did they correct themselves; “why smart men don’t roll with it”. Given the results of this research from my point of view it would be unwise to spend hours foam rolling after training or sports matches. That said, some positive results have been recorded, so whilst the field requires further research, foam rolling could still be an effective recovery mechanism.
About the Author: Jon is a speedy & athletic Touch Rugby player for England & blogs regularly at http://www.healthyjon.com