Welcome to Stay in the Game, a monthly blog where the team from the Queen's Center for Sports Medicine shares the latest tips on the treatment and prevention of sports injuries. We want to help you play hard and be well - a winning combination that will keep you in the game all season long.

Can foam rolling enhance athletic performance?


Foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release (SMR), and has become a popular and cost-effective intervention across all sports and activities. A foam roller is a cylindrical piece of foam that comes in various lengths and degrees of firmness.

Popular alternatives to foam rolling for self-myofascial release include using trigger-point tools, such as a lacrosse or tennis ball, hand-held stick rollers, or even more aggressive tools such as a PVC pipe.

What does the foam roller do?

Foam rolling, along with other SMR techniques and tools, is believed to potentially help to enhance range of motion, improve the recovery process by decreasing the effects of both acute and delayed onset muscle soreness, and to improve post-exercise muscle performance.

Research hypothesizes that foam rolling may work by increasing temperature and blood flow through friction, improving oxygen delivery and blood lactate removal, breaking down scar tissue, and other neuromuscular and mechanical changes that help return the fascia back to a more gel-like state that is pliable.

How is it performed, and when?

• The athlete uses his or her own bodyweight to apply pressure to soft tissue and myofascial structures, using the foam roller in a gentle rocking or rolling type of motion.
• Foam rolling may be used both pre- and post-activity. Foam rolling can be even more effective prior to activity when combined with a proper dynamic warm-up.
• A foam roller can be used for 30-60 second bouts at a time, for 3-5 repetitions per body area, depending on your needs.
• Be careful when rolling with your bodyweight atop the roller, staying mindful to avoid bony areas or nerve structures, as the roller should not cause any tingling or referred pain down an extremity.

Glute/piriformis

Sitting atop the roller, keep the legs bent and feet on the ground to gently rock back and forth across your buttocks, leaning to one side as needed to bias one side over the other. A more aggressive alternative would be to cross your leg over the other, like a figure 4.

TFL/ITB

Lie on your side atop the roller, keeping the top knee bent with foot flat on the ground, and the bottom leg closet to the roller straight. Gently roll from just below the top of hip down to just above the knee, "searching" for any tight or trigger-point areas. Repeat on the other side as needed.

Hip flexor/quad

Lie face down with the roller just underneath the front of your hip, being aware to stay on the soft tissue portion and off the bony aspect of your hip. You can raise your knee towards your hip to improve your control on the roller as you rock forward and back. To get to the quadriceps (front of the thigh), let the roller come down lower and finish just above the knee. Repeat on the other side.

Want to learn more? The Queen's Center for Sports Medicine provides comprehensive care for the treatment and prevention of sports injuries and conditions in athletes and active people of all ages.  For more information, or to schedule an appointment, call 808-691-4449& or click the button below.

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Cheatham, et al. The effects of self-myofascial release using a foam roll or roller massager on joint range of motion, muscle recovery, and performance: A systematic review. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. November 2015. 10(6):827-838.


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