The Basics of Foam Rolling

Foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release therapy wherein you roll over parts of the body (e.g., calves, thighs, upper back) using a foam cylindrical tube.1 In myofascial release therapy, pressure is applied to tight/sore areas in order to release tension and tightness of the fascia (stringy connective tissue that supports the body and muscles).2 In this article, we briefly explain the effects and safety considerations of foam rolling.

Effects of foam rolling

Range of motion (ROM). Research has shown that foam rolling leads to an immediate improvement in ROM.3–5 It is recommended to foam roll for at least 90 seconds to achieve increased ROM.3,5 Foam rolling does not lead to long-term ROM benefits, with one study demonstrating that increases in ROM fell from immediately following the intervention to 20 minutes post-foam rolling (though ROM at 20 minutes was still higher than baseline),4 and another study showing that ROM improvements were not maintained past 30 minutes.5 Reviews have also shown that long-term (≥4 weeks) foam rolling interventions can improve ROM.6,7 In particular, one review6 noted that long-term foam rolling led to significant improvements in ROM, whereas short-term (≥2 weeks but <4 weeks) did not; according to additional subgroup analysis, foam rolling led to significant increases in ROM when used on the hamstring, quadriceps, and other muscles, but not the triceps surae (calf muscles). 

The exact mechanisms behind ROM improvements caused by foam rolling are unknown, although several ideas have been posited. Nakamura et al5 noted that increased ROM appeared to be related to changes in stretch tolerability. Konrad et al4 discussed that benefits to ROM might be attributable to decreased muscle stiffness or alterations in fluid viscosity of the area that thereby decrease resistance to movement. 

Performance. Although there is some evidence that foam rolling might slightly improve some forms athletic performance (e.g., sprinting),8 overall, foam rolling is not considered to improve athletic performance.5,9

Pain perception. Research has demonstrated that foam rolling after exercising is associated with decreased pain perception.8,10 However, its effects on delayed onset muscle soreness are unclear.1


Foam rolling is contraindicated for individuals with bone fractures and open wounds, and caution is recommended for individuals with deep vein thrombosis, local tissue inflammation, myositis ossificans (a benign mass that turns to bone, typically in skeletal muscle), and osteomyelitis (inflammation of bone tissue).11 Care should also be taken if using a foam roller on joints (e.g., knees, ankles), as it can cause hyperextension.1

  1. Cleveland Clinic. Should you try foam rolling? 19 Jan 2023. Accessed 11 Jan 2024.
  2. Cleveland Clinic. Myofascial release therapy. Reviewed 15 Aug 2022. Accessed 11 Jan 2024.
  3. Driller M, Leabeater A. Fundamentals or icing on top of the cake? A narrative review of recovery strategies and devices for athletes. Sports (Basel). 2023;11(11):213.
  4. Konrad A, Nakamura M, Paternoster FK, et al. A comparison of a single bout of stretching or foam rolling on range of motion in healthy adults. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2022;122(7):1545–1557. 
  5. Nakamura M, Onuma R, Kiyono R, et al. The acute and prolonged effects of different durations of foam rolling on range of motion, muscle stiffness, and muscle strength. J Sports Sci Med. 2021;20(1):62–68.
  6. Konrad A, Nakamura M, Tilp M, et al. Foam rolling training effects on range of motion: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Med. 2022;52(10):2523–2535. 
  7. Pagaduan JC, Chang SY, Chang NJ. Chronic effects of foam rolling on flexibility and performance: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022;19(7):4315. 
  8. Wiewelhove T, Döweling A, Schneider C, et al. A meta-analysis of the effects of foam rolling on performance and recovery. Front Physiol. 2019;10:376. 
  9. Konrad A, Nakamura M, Behm DG. The effects of foam rolling training on performance parameters: a systematic review and meta-analysis including controlled and randomized controlled trials. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022;19(18):11638. 
  10. Cheatham SW, Kolber MJ, Cain M, Lee M. The effects of self-myofascial release using a foam roller or roller massager on joint range of motion, muscle recovery, and performance: a systematic review. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2015;10(6):827–838. 
  11. Bartsch KM, Baumgart C, Freiwald J, et al. Expert consensus on the contraindications and cautions of foam rolling-an international Delphi study. J Clin Med. 2021;10(22):5360.  

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