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Foam Rolling

Foam rolling and other such massage tools i.e. massage spiky, balls and sticks have become increasingly popular amongst athletes today. It has been hypothesised that these tools can break up muscle adhesions / scar tissue to promote the athletes mobility, function and as a way to help reduce pain.


As these tools may be a good idea to promote such things, they are by no means working through the tissues by "breaking them up" and in some cases athletes that I have witnessed aren't using these tools correctly or to their maximum potential.

Foam rolling at The No1 Pain Relief Clinic, Buxton

Far too often I see athletes wince with grimace in pain due to using their foam rollers or massage tools far to intensely on their achy muscles as they roll around on the floor.


Some athletes find that regular foam rolling aids them through the rehabilitation process as a way to prevent injury. To date this is still very debatable in the rehabilitation health professional community. Although these types of massage tools don't break up adhesions and scar tissue, research has shown that massage tools can provide a neural input. This means that the stimuli generated from the massage tool (neural input) helps to reduce tone in the muscle thereby promoting mobility and function.


These findings suggest that we don't have to use the massage tool vigorously over our achy muscles or roll around the floor and wince in pain. Instead 6-10 minutes of light to moderate pressure of rolling down and up the muscle a few times per day will help to create enough stimuli to promote the desired response to take effect. I recommend to athletes that the desired pressure should be no more than slightly uncomfortable but by no means painful. 


Final thoughts


Foam rolling can help to promote our system to relax, similar to a massage. The neural input generated can promote mobility and function which may help restore normal muscle mechanics. However further research is required to help further substantiate claims.


Useful Tips

  • For first timers, foam rolling may initially be uncomfortable. I suggest you should gradually start with a low intensity foam roller and slowly build up your exercise and foam roller intensity program (to light to moderate).

  • By regularly adjusting your body position this will help reduce your chances of your nervous system from becoming over sensitive

  • Search for sensitive soft tissue areas and roll down and up the muscle a few times for it to be effective - always finishing your last roll towards the heart.

  • Approximately 6-10 minutes per day of light to moderate pressure of foam rolling over a muscle is sufficient to promote the desired neural response to take effect.


As always thanks for reading this article, enjoy your sport. If you enjoyed reading this article you may enjoy reading my other article on Benefits and Effects of Massage.

Stephen Johnston

Nick gave me honest and straight forward advice with clear explanations throughout my treatment and exercises best suited to my requirements which was a success. Extremely professional and would strongly recommend.

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  1. Bukiet B, Chaudhry H, Schleip R, et al - Three-Dimensional Model for Deformation of Human Fasciae in Manual Therapy Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, August 2008, Vol. 108, 379-390.

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