Foam Roller Exercises – Fad or Fab?

Fitness trends come and go, and it can be hard to work out which ones are going to stick and which ones aren’t. It seems that everyone in the health and fitness world is spruiking foam roller exercises at the moment, so I am going to give you a Physiotherapist’s take on the phenomenon.


What is a foam roller?

A foam roller is a cylinder of dense foam. They come in many different sizes, but the most common is about 15cm in diameter and is approximately 90cm long.

‘Foam rolling’ consists of placing a body part on top of the roller and using your own propulsion to roll it back and forth. Common areas to ‘roll’ include the calves, hamstrings, iliotibial band, quadriceps and the spine.


How does a foam roller work?

With body weight on top of the roller, the muscles become compressed. With the movement of the roller, pressure and movement is distributed throughout the muscle.

The pain or discomfort that many people feel with foam roller exercises is due to compression of tight areas within the muscles.

What are the benefits of foam roller exercises?

In short, foam rolling is like a massage you can perform on yourself. The benefits are therefore very much the same as massage, namely

  • improved circulation
  • removal of waste products in the tissue
  • faster recovery
  • breakdown of scar tissue
  • increase in range of movement
  • improved body awareness


Is foam rolling here to stay?

As long as massage is deemed to be beneficial, there will be a place for foam rolling along side it. Massage can be expensive, and is often only done weekly at most. Foam rolling gives people the opportunity to get the same benefits as massage at a time and location of their choosing, and with a lot less cost. Small foam rollers are also light to pack, meaning it is a very portable piece of equipment.


What else can a foam roller be used for?

Foam rollers are also used for the mobilization of joints, particularly in the spine. By lying back over a roller, the many small joints in the spine can be relieved from hours spent sitting or bending over.

Another use for foam rollers is for balance exercises. Lying over a roller can provide an unstable base for a range of great core stability exercises.


Does this Physiotherapist think foam rolling is fad or fab?

As a fan of anything that helps patients to be in control of their own recovery, the foam roller definitely fits in the ‘fab’ pile. A foam roller is a cheap, portable and effective way to prevent and manage injury.


I bought a very small foam roller for travel recently, and have found it brilliant for recovering my calves after a long day on my feet. So foam rolling: It’s a yes from me.