Foam Rolling: Is It Worth The Hype Or Just A Placebo?

woman on a foam roller
You’ve definitely come across these common, pool-noodle-like sorcery at your local gym before this challenging period of pandemic and quarantines. When I first tried foam rolling in public, I felt embarrassed to be on the mat laying on my stomach, in a position akin to humping as I rolled out my sore inner thighs, in hopes that I was doing this correctly and not looking like an absolute madman.

woman on a foam roller
Image Source: Ann Pelino
And this is coming from someone that regularly hip thrusts and swings kettlebells, in a similar fashion below, although with slightly less enthusiasm, vigour and crazed expression. Just admit it, we’ve all stumbled and ventured to strange parts of YouTube before so let’s accept and applaud the absurdity of this performance and charge forward.

Video Source: PS4Fan/YouTube

My Foam Rolling Experience

After becoming more acquainted with my own foam roller, which I had bought for myself after I started experiencing upper back stiffness that I attribute to remote work and prolonged periods of sitting, the tightness in my back and all the areas I had rolled out — from my hip flexors, glutes to calves, felt properly soothed and kneaded, just after a single 15-minute foam rolling session! Relief came instantly and I was ready to sing the praises of this apparatus until I did some digging that convinced me otherwise. In fact, this post was originally going to be about why you should add foam rolling to your daily routine.

Foam Rolling Theories: An Instant Yet Temporary Relief

While there has only been limited research done on the mechanisms of foam rolling, it has been theorized that the use of foam rollers works by applying pressure to the muscle fascia, which are connective tissues around our muscles. This pressure and friction allows muscles to separate, loosen up and become more flexible, which aids not only in helping our muscles feel temporary relief, but may also help improve our range of motion and movement during workouts and prevent injury.
Image Source: Thoracolumbar Fascia/Wikipedia
The second speculation suggests that foam rolling works not through being able to alter the physical structure of our muscle fascia, but by prompting a purely neurological response that tells our nervous system to relax, thus leading to the familiar and perceived ‘releasing’ effect that people experience when foam rolling.

A past study from The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, found that it takes about 1,000 lbs of force to make at least a 1% impact on muscle fascia. (1) Suddenly I found myself I found myself eyeing my 36 inch foam roller in disbelief and thinking: Has foam rolling been a feel good placebo this whole time?

Should You Ditch Foam Rollers?

Geared with the insight that the foam rolling may only be a neurological response that provides temporary relief from muscle tightness and soreness, and that continuous use will not make lasting changes to the structure of my muscles in the long run, for this reason I will be retiring my foam roller until pools re-open.

Instead, I will be taking preventative measures to make sure the back pain I was experiencing from remote working doesn’t become chronic which will involve being more mindful of my posture, whether I’m sitting, standing or sleeping, staying active and doing strength training exercises that will strengthen my back and others areas of concern.

It sounds like common sense but putting it into practice makes one realize how temperamental our backs and bodies are, and how even the smallest movements and positioning can have big implications on our physical health.

Image Source: QuoteFancy

Rosa | Grey Skies + Confetti
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