Foam Rolling: Hurts So Good

This weekend I got the greatest gift ever: A Foam Roller. Okay, maybe not the greatest gift ever“, but I was pretty excited! I used to have The Stick, but I managed to lose it during one of my 3 moves in a 12 month span last year. Oops! Lately my poor legs have been screaming for some MFR (myofascial release)…more on that later…so I was ecstatic to receive my own foam roller!

Anyone who has ever used a foam roller can attest to how painful it is – yet in a good way – for sore muscles. In fact, whenever I foam roll or use the stick I think of the John Cougar Mellencamp song “Hurt So Good“, you know – “Come on baby, make it hurt so good. Sometimes love don’t feel like it should. You make it hurt so good”. Maybe that’s just me?? Oh well, regardless I am excited to have my own because now I can foam roll in the comforts of my own home – including on my kitchen floor in the middle of Sunday Night Football (Go PATRIOTS!!). Sometimes my furry friend, Gus (the roommate’s dog) likes to help me out…

Okay, moving on! Today I wanted to share some nerdy information regarding foam rolling that you may not be aware of!

Flexibility is one of the 5 factors of physical fitness, yet is probably the one that is most likely to be ignored. Flexibility is often viewed as insignificant, however, decreased range of motion of joints, due to soft tissue shortness or stiffness can play a significant impact on proper movement during sport or more importantly, activities of daily living[1].

A significant impacting factor of movement impingement is the role of the myofascial tissue associated with muscle[2]. Myofascia is a tough sheet of connective tissue that envelops and binds tissue together[3]. These layers can become restrictions to movement due to adhesions, muscular inflammation or fascia inflammation itself3. In order to help reduce these instances, myofascial release (MFR) techniques (basically soft-tissue massage) have been developed, and have shown signs of significantly reducing rates of injury and increasing flexibility of muscle[4].

One common method of eliciting enough pressure to achieve self-administered myofascial release is the use of foam rolling. The purpose of this technique to is provide body weight pressure throughout the length of the muscle to loosen the myofasical adhesion points with the soft tissue to help decrease pain and increase range of motion. Performing MFR, in conjunction with regular stretching can improve flexibility4.

In addition to increased flexibility and range of motion, the release of myofascial tissue has also been shown to benefit blood flow and increase lymphatic drainage[5]. These positive alterations may have additional health implications; especially associated with blood flow and lymphatic system issues we develop as we age. The more we are able to improve fluid flow, especially in the lower limbs, the less relative work our cardiovascular system will need to work to get blood to return to the heart efficiently.

Currently, the recommendation for flexibility “training” from the American College of Sports Medicine is to incorporate static stretching to your daily routine 2-3 times per week (with an ideal recommendation of 5-7 days) and to hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds at the point of mild discomfort, repeating each stretch 2-4 times[6]. There are no national guidelines for MFR, but to help increase flexibility and range of motion, incorporating MFR a few days a week via the use of a foam-roller is likely to be beneficial. Using your own body weight, slowly roll (knead) your muscles back and forth on the foam roller, pausing 30-90 seconds at the isolated points of adhesion (aka the parts that are most painful)5. My favorite body parts to foam roll: calves, quads, and butt! So painful, but so helpful for subsequent training sessions.

If you have never foam rolled before, I suggest starting with a softer one. Usually white foam rollers are soft, while blue and black are harder. You can also control how much of your body weight you place on the roller, which will alter the degree of discomfort you experience while performing these movements.

So if you have never done it, try it out. If you have been slacking on foam rolling lately, get back to it! HAPPY SELF-MYOFASCIAL RELEASING THIS WEEK!

Do you foam roll? How often? Do you find it beneficial and/or a “good” hurt…or just straight painful?


[1] Pollock ML, et al. ACSM position stand: The recommended quantity and quality of exercise for developing and maintaining cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, and flexibility in healthy adults. Med Sci Sports Exer: 30(1): 975-991: 1998.

[2] Kain J, Martorello L, Swanson E, Sego S. Comparison of an indirect tri-planar myofascial release (MFR) technique and a hot pack for increasing range of motion. J Bodywork Move Ther: 15(1): 63: 2011.

[3] Curran PF, Fiore RD, Crisco JJ. A comparison of the pressure exerted on soft tissue by 2 myofascial rollers. J Sports Rehab: 14: 432-442: 2008.

[4] Castro-Sanchez AM, et al. Effects of myofascial release techniques on pain, physical function and postural stability in patients with fibromyalgia: a randomized control study. Clin Rehab: 25(9): 800: 2011.

[5] Paolini J. Review of myofascial release as an effective massage therapy technique. Athletic Therapy Today: 14(5): 30: 2009.

[6] American College of Sports Medicine. ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Perscription (6th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins.