Foam Rollers

At first glance, the foam roller is a seemingly harmless piece of equipment. Not heavy and daunting like a kettle ball or complicated like a Pilates reformer. You might wonder what this soft, comfortable-looking bolt of foam could do for a fitness routine. Here’s a quick look:

Self-myofascial release Injuries, repetitive motion, or even prolonged inactivity can degrade the function of your muscles and fascia (the network of connective tissue that surrounds and supports your muscles). This results in localized areas with compromised function, commonly referred to as knots or trigger points. Trigger points are usually hypertonic and tender to the touch, and restrict movement of the surrounding muscle.

The health of this dysfunctional tissue can often be restored through deep-tissue myofascial release. By applying firm pressure to a trigger point for several seconds, tension can be released and recovery encouraged.


Foam rolling is a self-myofascial release (SMR) technique that is used by trainers and physical therapists to inhibit overactive muscles. This form of stretching utilizes the concept of autogenic inhibition to improve soft tissue extensibility, thus relaxing the muscle and allowing the activation of the antagonist muscle.

This technique can be effective for many muscles, including: gastrocnemius, latissimus dorsi, piriformis, adductors, quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors, thoracic spine (trapezius and rhomboids), and TFL. It is accomplished by rolling the foam roller under each muscle group until a tender area is found, and maintaining pressure on the tender area for 30–60 seconds.

The equipment that is used for foam rolling usually consists of a foam cylinder of various sizes; commonly 12 inches long, 6 inches in diameter. However, longer foam rolls up to 36 inches in length are produced for rolling over certain muscles in the back.

A variety of foam roll densities also exist. People who are new to foam rolling, or those who have particularly tight muscles or severe trigger points should start with a softer foam roll. Often the color can help to distinguish the density. White rolls are typically softer, while blue and black rolls tend to be harder.


The kinetic chain is made up of the soft tissue system (muscle, tendon, ligament, and fascia), neural system (nerves and CNS), and articular system (joints).  The kinetic chain works as an integrated functional unit.  All components of the kinetic chain exist interdependently.  If one segment is not functioning efficiently, then the other components must compensate, leading to tissue overload, fatigue, faulty movement patterns, and finally initiates the Cumulative Injury Cycle.  For example, muscle tightness restricts the range of motion that a joint may be moved.  Because of muscle restriction (tightness, soft tissue adhesions, and neural-hyperactivity), joint motion is altered, thus changing normal neural feedback to the CNS (central nervous system).  Ultimately, neuromuscular efficiency is compromised, which leads to poor movement patterns, inducing premature fatigue and causing injury.  An effective SMFR (Self-Myofascial Release) Program helps improve muscular balance and performance.


A simple review of neuromuscular anatomy is required to apply the neurophysiological concepts.  Two basic neural receptors are located in skeletal muscle tissue.  These receptors are the muscle spindle and the golgi tendon organ.  Muscle Spindles are located parallel to the muscle fibers.  They record changes in fiber length, and rate of change to the CNS.  This triggers the myotatic stretch reflex, which reflexively shortens muscle tissue, alters the normal length-tension relationship, and often induces pain.  Golgi Tendon Organs (GTO) are located at the musculotendinous junction.  They are sensitive to change in tension and rate of tension change.  Stimulation of the GTO’s past a certain threshold inhibits the muscle spindle activity, and decreases muscular tension.  This phenomenon is referred to as autogenic inhibition.  It is said to be “autogenic” because the contracting agonist is inhibited by its’ own receptors.  Reduction in soft-tissue tension decreases pain, restores normal muscle length-tension relationships, and improves function.


  • Focus on relaxing your muscles, not flexing them. Rolling is best done very slowly and deliberately, and is the way that you scan your body for trigger points.
  • Hold each position 1-2 minutes for each side (when applicable).
  • As you roll, note any areas that feel unusually dense or tender. If pain is felt, stop rolling and pause on the painful areas for 30-45 seconds – allowing the roller to sink in deeply. Continuing to roll when pain is present activates the muscle spindles, causing increased tightness and pain.
  • Resting 30-45 seconds on painful areas will stimulate the GTO and autogenically inhibit the muscle spindles; reducing muscular tension and will help regulate fascial receptors. In other words, gradually the muscle will begin to loosen and the pain will begin to dissipate.
  • Maintain proper Draw-In Position, which provides stability to the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex during rolling.
  • Perform SMFR Program 1-2 x daily.


When selecting foam rolls, product density is very important.  If the foam is too soft, less than adequate tissue massage is applied.  On the other hand, if the foam is too hard, bruising and more advanced soft-tissue trauma may occur, leading to further restriction, initiation of the inflammatory process, decreased range of motion, pain, and decreased performance.