Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is for educational purposes only. This is not a substitute for a medical appointment. Please refer to your physician before starting any exercise program.
There has been a large increase of foam rollers found in workout retails, instructional videos, and on gym floors, but for good reason. These foam-based workout accessories are multifunctional and accessible. Plus, studies have proven their success in improving muscle pain, increasing workout strategies, and promoting overall better physical health. You can use them before work, after workouts, and they even help prevent soreness after a workout. Wondering how to get in on the craze? Here are our recommendations for the best foam rollers for muscle and joint pain.
What is a Foam Roller?
Foam rollers are foam cylinders that help apply pressure to muscles when stretching or moving on top of them. They are usually very firm, with softer options also available. Foam rollers were invented in the 1980’s and were first used in Physical Therapy for self myofascial release as early as 1987. The original design for foam rollers were to help with self muscle massage and to stretch the fascia around the muscle. We now know this isn’t entirely true but they do still provide many benefits for rehab patients and performance athletes.
How to use a Foam Roller?
Foam rollers can be used by rolling your body over the tube as a way to stretch, or by increasing the intensity of a workout.
An efficient way to use the foam roller is before and after a workout to stretch muscles as both a warm-up and warm-down to prevent injury and soreness.
Specific positions and techniques can even relieve chronic muscle pains in various areas of the body. Two to three sets that last 30 to 60 seconds each is ideal when using a roller to lessen muscle pain.
It is extremely important to research techniques on how to use foam rollers for the specific issues your body needs to target, or else you risk presenting more damage to your muscles. For proper usage, please follow recommendations from a physical therapist. There are many resources online for advice.
Tips on Using a Foam Roller
How Do Foam Rollers Actually Work?
Foam rolling is known more technically as a self-myofascial release, otherwise known as SMR. The goal is to stretch the fascia by rolling on the cyclinder. Thanks to research we now know this isn’t the case. It would take forces impossible for humans to achieve to stretch fascia even a small amount. So how does it work then?
Foam roller works by acting on the Central Nervous System. By applying pressure to receptors in the body it causes a down regulation of the nerves. It does not work by stretching fascia, muscles, or tendons.
The decrease in nerve activity then allows for muscle relaxation globally, improves vascular function, improves pain threshold, and lowers stress hormone like Cortisol.
Due to the action on the nervous system, you will even see changes in one leg without ever touching it by simply foam rolling the other leg. The positive effects foam rolling has on nerves and blood vessels make it an ideal tool to use at home with recovery and performance.
What are the Benefits of Using a Foam Roller?
Releasing muscle tightness is the most talked-about of the benefit of foam rollers. Whether it be post-workout soreness or tension build-up, rolling out muscles by using the firmness of a foam roller loosens muscles tightness and helps with the perception of tightness.
Improves Range of Motion
Loosening the tension in muscles not only relieves pain, but it also increases your range of motion. Using foam rollers is an alternative way to release tension as compared to stretching because of the extra pressure put on muscles and the global effect it has.
Another major benefit of using a foam roller is the increase in blood flow. When the tension in muscles is released, blood flow is able to increase.The vascular system can benefit from long term positive results of foam rolling. According to the Cooper Institute, healthy arteries contract with consistent blood flow, but aging often affects arteries flow-through “arterial stiffness.” A study they conducted found that foam rollers had a positive effect on the vascular system and even reduced arterial stiffness.
Foam rolling also improves whats called the pain pressure threshold. This means that after foam rolling your body tolerate more pain at a lower level for a short amount of time. This can sometimes allow you play more minutes, run longer distances, or push your range of motion a few degrees more. This change in pain tolerance is short lived so do have to roll frequently to maintain this benefit.
The Best Foam Rollers For Home Use
TriggerPoint GRID Foam Roller
Summary: The TriggerPoint GRID Foam Roller contains a hard, hollowed core that is wrapped in a thin layer of foam, making it a firmer option of a foam roller. The textured design is meant to mimic a massage hand so that it can be used to target your muscles’ specific needs. TriggerPoint GRID is 26 inches long and 5 inches wide. The high-quality EVA foam is built to last long and provide increased pressure.
Pros: Less foam means better for the environment. High-quality materials. One year warranty.
Cons: Difficult for beginners. Heavier design.
AMFit Foam Roller
Summary: The AMfit Foam Roller is a full-length roller built for everyday use for yoga, weight training, muscle therapy, or weight training. The 36-inch length and firm design are manufactured to be universal. The AMFit design is smooth with an anti-slip surface, allowing for home, gym, or studio use.
Pros: Color options. Lightweight and easy to carry design. Good deal for price.
Cons: Firm foam might soften after extended usage. Length not ideal for limited space.
LuxFit Foam Roller
Summary: The LuxFit roller is designed specifically for muscle massage therapy and yoga/usage. Extra-firm foam is durable and will not lose shape over extended use. Purchase of LuxFit Foam Roller also includes an online instructional video to ensure user safety and increase muscle relief after usage.
Pros: Color and size options. Liquid repellant. 3-year limited warranty.
Cons: Shorter options are still wider in diameter, which can be uncomfortable for shorter backs. Not ideal for intense exercise use.
CanDo Black Composite High-Density Foam Roller
Summary: Made for universal activities, the CanDo roller can be used for light massaging and yoga, or weight training and bodybuilding. The half-round option is available for purchase, which can be used for stretching and muscle therapy, especially for legs and ankles. The composite foam used by CanDo is durable and will not lose stiffness over time.
Pros: Length and diameter size options. Lightweight for travel. An affordable option with quality materials.
Cons: Foam can be too dense for beginners.
OPTP Silver AXIS Standard Foam Roller
Summary: The OPTP foam roller is a moderate density roller, which is a more comfortable option for beginners or those looking for lighter pressure. It also comes in a full cylinder and a half-cylinder option and has three sizes between 12 inches and 36-inches to choose from. Best used for stretching and muscle recovery on non-slippery surfaces.
Pros: Less firm without compromising on durability. Easy cleaning. Lightweight.
Cons: Might be more firm than company claims. Slips on a hard surface.
The most important aspect to remember when investing in a foam roller is that proper usage and technique is more important than which foam roller you choose. For your own safety and to increase results you desire, it is important to do research on how to use foam rollers properly for your specific needs.
That being said, foam rollers are the ideal investment for a universally functioning exercise and stretching accessory. With the range of quality, affordability, and functionality available, there is an option for anyone whose muscles might need a little T.L.C.