blog post #404
“An Acute Bout of Self Myofascial Release Increases Range of Motion Without a Subsequent Decrease in Muscle Activation or Force”
Foam rolling is an incredibly popular form of self-massage using a firm foam tube. This relatively straightforward scientific test of foam rolling amounts to a test of massage (“self-myofascial release”), not of “foam rolling” per se. However, because foam rolling is often used in a sports massage context, the study focussed on muscle function and joint range of motion.
A small group of healthy, active men used a foam roller application on their quadriceps to see of their knee range of motion would increase. It seemed to do so by as much as 8%, ten minutes after the activity. The researchers concluded that “an acute bout of SMR of the quadriceps was an effective treatment to acutely enhance knee joint range of motion.” The researchers concluded that "an acute bout of SMR of the quadriceps was an effective treatment to acutely enhance knee joint range of motion" — but with measuring only 10 minutes after the activity, these results seem less than exciting. And it was hardly a perfect study. Greg Lehman points out several key flaws:
The significance of this paper was so well summarized by Jason Silvernail, PT (in a Facebook post), that it’s worth quoting him in full:
Here’s a small study about foam rolling in typical exercise science style: done on a very small number of healthy people. It’s an important first step, but the size of the study and it’s design limits what we conclusions we can draw. My prediction is that those who love foam rolling will talk about this like this is a big deal. It’s not.
Anyone who says “foam rolling works and this study supports it” is demonstrating their inability to appraise research well. Anyone who says “foam rolling doesn’t work and this study shows it’s useless” is also demonstrating that inability as well as their bias against this tool. The only rational response is a shrug and an acknowledgement that this is only a first step and that the core clinical claims for rolling remain unlikely from a mechanism standpoint and untested/unproven from a clinical research standpoint.
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