Foam rollers are foam cylindrical fitness tools are used to massage muscles, warm up and cool down, and as equipment for balance training.
Foam rollers are foam-filled cylinders that range in length from 1 ft. (30.48 cm) to 4 ft. (121.92 cm). The diameter is usually 6 in. (15.24 cm). Rollers are either round, circular, or half-found, semi-circular with a flat bottom. The foam roller used most often is the 3 ft. (91.44 cm) roller with a 6 in. (15.24 cm) diameter.
The foam roller is also used as a warm-up and cool-down tool for athletes including runners. In addition, foam rollers are among the exercise tools that the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommend for balance training by older adults. Balance training helps older adults prevent falls by strengthening muscles and improving posture.
Muscles are bundles of fibers or tissues that contract and expand to produce body movements. Foam rollers are used on muscles including the:
Although opinions vary about who invented foam rolling, the massage and training technique started as a physical therapy technique. At the same time, gyms were among the locations where masseuses massaged the sore and tense muscles of clients. At gyms, the cost of the massage might not be included in the membership fee, so foam rollers offered an economical alternative to the price for a masseuse. And the foam rolling provided the opportunity for massaging muscles at home.
Two Americans are usually credited with popularizing foam rollers as fitness tools in the United States.
Stacy Barrows, a California-registered physical therapist, said in a 2003 interview with the Daily Breeze newspaper that she discovered foam rollers while training in the Feldenkrais Method. The training was named for Moshe Feldenkrais, an Israeli physicist and engineer. He was also an athlete until an earlier knee injury flared up and left him unable to walk. Feldenkrais researched methods to treat the knee. He treated himself with those that included the use of gentle movements. Feldenkrais learned to walk again and began training others in his method in 1969. He trained practitioners in the United States from 1975 through 1983.
Barrows, a Guild-Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner, had been using foam rollers personally and professionally for almost a decade at the time of the Daily Breeze interview. In 2006, she was granted a patent for the roller described in the patent as a variable option, with two surface options for beginner and advanced uses. The roller was flat on one side, round on the other, and padded on both sides. That design allowed people to balance more easily than they could on a round roller, according to the patent. Barrows' invention was marketed as the SmartRoller.
Physical therapist Michael Clark is also recognized as a promoter of foam rolling. His writings on its use in physical therapy included the 2000 book Integrated Training for the New Millennium. Clark was the chief executive officer of the National Academy of Sports Medicine in October 2011.
Density, or thickness, is another gage of foam rollers. The selection of some foam rollers available include the following.
LOW-DENSITY ROLLERS. The low-density foam roller has a low density and is soft. While recommended for beginners, some reviewers said the roller loses its shape in about six months. Low-density equipment with 6 in. (15.24 cm) diameters included the Agile Fitness 12 in. (30.48 cm) foam roller priced at $21.99. The 36 in. (91.44 cm) Agile Fitness roller cost $39.99.
EVA FOAM ROLLERS. Ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) foam rollers are high-density rollers that provide greater pressure because of the thickness. Products include the Cando Blue EVA extra dense half-round. The roller was 12 in. (30.48 cm) long, had a 6 in. (15.24 cm) diameter, and was priced at $19.59. The Cando Blue EVA extra dense roller measuring 36-in. (91.44 cm) with a 6-in. diameter cost $43.94.
MOLDED FOAM. The high-density molded foam roller does not have cells and is studier than the traditional roller, according to Perform Better, manufacturer of PB Elite foam rollers. The offering included the 12-in. (30.48 cm)-long half-round with a 6-in. (15.24 cm) diameter. It cost $10.95. The round roller measuring 36-in. (91.44 cm) with a 6-in. (15.24 cm) diameter was priced at $22.95.
The SmartRoller is made of closed-cell molded foam. Sold by OPTP (Orthopedic Physical Therapy Products), the $40.95 SmartRoller was approximately 36 in. (91.44 cm) with a 4-in. (10.16 cm) diameter.
A physical therapist could use a foam roller on a client, and people may use foam rollers on themselves at home, at the gym, or before or after a workout. The rollers are lightweight and easy to transport to an activity like a marathon. A low-density 3-ft. (91.44 cm) roller usually weighs about 2 lb. (0.9 kg).
When the person lies or sits on the foam roller, the body weight applies pressure to the area that will be treated. The individual rolls the muscle on the roller or moves the roller up and down on the body. Opinion is varied about how long to roll, but 30 seconds is usually recommended. If this is uncomfortable, the person could divide the activity into three 10-second segments. The goal for massage is to work up to from 60 to 90 seconds.
If less intensity is desired, the person should move some of the body weight off of the roller. Care should be taken to avoid rolling on the joints. In addition, people should not use a foam roller on an injury unless advised to do so by a physical therapist or healthcare professional.
Massage techniques usually involve positioning the body on a round roller. Foam rolling exercises treat muscles including the:
The ACSM advised older adults to consult with a physical therapist or personal trainer to set up a balance-training program. This will help to establish a program suitable for the person's fitness and balance levels. Balance training could be done at home.
The individual should start slowly and build up to more challenging exercises. Before using the foam roller, it may be necessary to start balance training by first standing on the floor with one foot raised.
Balance and strength exercises could involve standing, kneeling, lying, or sitting on the foam roller, according to the ACSM. Sitting or standing on the roller pushes the muscles to work harder to maintain balance. The foam roller also helps to correct posture by stabilizing the spine. Exercises include sitting on the roller and using the feet to move the body back and forth. The exercise is done slowly.
If an individual plans to do resistance training (lifting weights) and balance training on the same day, the ACSM recommended doing the balance training first so that muscles are not fatigued.
Foam rollers serve several purposes, and learning to use them is not difficult. Foam rolling provides the benefits of massage for athletes and and nonathtes who want to ease tension. This could be done before a workout or while watching television at home. Foam rolling improves ciruclation and is helpful before and after a workout. In addition, the rollers are effective tools for balance training.
The rollers are affordable, lightweight, and easy to store or transport.
The risks from foam rolling come from using the rollers incorrectly. The rollers should not be used on injuries unless advised to do so by a healthcare professional like a physical therapist. In addition, the foam rollers should never be applied to the joints.
Barrows, Stacy. SmartRoller Guide To Optimal Movement. Plymouth: OPTP, 2011.
Knopf, Karl. Foam Roller Workbook: Illustrated Step-byStep Guide to Stretching, Strengthening and Rehabilitative Techniques. Berkeley: Ulysses Press 2011.
“Selecting and Effectively Using Balance Training Tools for Older Adults.” American College of Sports Medicine. http://www.acsm.org/docs/brochures/selecting-and-effectively-using-balance-training-for-older-adults.pdf (accessed January 18, 2017).
Hamilton, Michelle. “How to Use a Foam Roller.” Runner's World. July 27, 2016. http://www.runnersworld.com/foam-roller/how-to-use-a-foam-roller (accessed January 18, 2017).
American College of Sports Medicine, 401 W Michigan St., Indianapolis, IN, 46202-3233, (317) 6379200, Fax: (317) 634-7817, http://www.acsm.org .