Foam rollers are often used to stretch and release the muscle tightness and trigger points/knots that can build up following prolonged repetitive or intense training sessions. They are particularly useful for deep tissue massage which helps to break down soft tissue adhesions, scar tissue, trigger points and releases the tightness between the muscles and the fascia. By doing this foam rollers are believed to improved blood flow to the affected muscles, enhance recovery, reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), reduce muscle fatigue and improve muscular performance. This is supported by recent research looking at the effects of foam rolling following back squats (Pearcey et al., 2014).
About the foam roller research
The researchers looked at the effects of performing 20 minutes of foam rolling immediately, 24 and 48hours after completing 10 sets of 10 repetitions of back squats at 60% of 1 repetition maximum. Each of the eight participants completed 10 sets of squats on two separate occasions (once with and once without foam rolling), separated by four weeks.
What the researchers found
The use of the foam roller post-exercise was found to have a positive effect on quadriceps tenderness, sprint time, power, and dynamic strength endurance. The researchers concluded that foam rolling was effective for reducing DOMS and protecting against reductions in dynamic performance.
The results of this study support previous research (Macdonald et al., 2014) that also found that use of a foam roller post-exercise was beneficial in reducing muscle soreness whilst improving vertical jump height, muscle activation, and range of motion.
What to take from the research
The main point is that the use of a foam roller is beneficial for reducing DOMS as well as aiding recovery and protecting against reductions in performance following intense training. Therefore, it makes sense to incorporate the use of foam rollers as part of the post exercise routine, especially after intense or prolonged exercise, rather than waiting until you need to use it for injured or excessively tight muscles.
Pearcey GE, Bradbury-Squires DJ, Kawamoto JE, Drinkwater EJ, Behm DG, Button DC. (2014) Foam Rolling for Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness and Recovery of Dynamic Performance Measures. J Athl Train. 2014 Nov 21. [Epub ahead of print]
Macdonald GZ1, Button DC, Drinkwater EJ, Behm DG. (2014) Foam rolling as a recovery tool after an intense bout of physical activity. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2014 Jan;46(1):131-42. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3182a123db.