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Q&A: What Are the Benefits of Foam Rolling?

What are the benefits of foam rolling, especially when compared to just stretching?

Both novice runners and seasoned marathoners alike have all struggled with nagging injuries such as runner's knee, iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS), hip bursitis, Achilles tendonitis and other kinds of tightness or aches. These injuries are commonly caused by restrictions of fascia, a layer of fibrous tissue that surrounds the muscle.

Static stretching and foam rolling are two techniques usually used to prevent fascial adhesions and improve tissue mobility, which can be related to various movement impairments. It is important to keep the muscles and fascia moving normally throughout the body, as they are constantly being impacted by daily stressors.

Research has been done to determine the best course for treatment to address injuries associated with fascial restrictions. Recent studies have shown that a combination of both foam rolling and static stretching resulted in a greater increase in range of motion than static stretching alone. Using both techniques, more power is produced within the normal range of motion, along with increased flexibility, thus impacting overall athletic performance.

Further benefits can be seen when these two techniques are utilized both before and after a workout.

Foam rolling prior to working out allows you to engage muscle groups, thereby warming the body up, and it decreases the likelihood of injury from a "cold" tight muscle. After working out, foam rolling improves flexibility and targets the tensions on the myofascial tissue layers.

Static stretching is most beneficial after working out, since it helps to lengthen muscles and it improves tissue flexibility. Foam rolling has more of an overall benefit than static stretching, but a combination of the two is best for injury prevention and athletic performance.

If you still suffer persistent repetitive stress injuries, even after incorporating static stretching and foam rolling, you should consider consulting with a physical therapist to address underlying movement impairments.


Raymond Delacruz

Raymond J. Delacruz, PT, MSPT, CSCS, FMS, SFMA, FAAOMPT is an Advanced Clinician at the Hospital for Special Surgery Spine Therapy Center. He received his Bachelor's degree in Exercise Science from the University of South Carolina and his Master's in Rehabilitation Science in physical therapy from the Medical University of South Carolina. He holds various certifications, such as a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), as well as in selective movement assessments (SFMA). Ray is also fellowship trained through the Manual Therapy Institute and is a recognized Fellow in the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapists (FAAOMPT).

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