How to Use a Foam Roller

A foam roller is a long cylindrical roll made of foam or foam and plastic that is used primarily for recovery purposes. You can use foam rollers to relieve muscle tension, encourage injury recovery, relax tight, knotted muscles, and improve flexibility. You can also use a foam roller in self-massage, which delivers many of the same benefits as a normal massage.

Foam rollers come in a variety of shapes and sizes and can vary widely in the degree of firmness. Some foam rollers are relatively soft and yielding to touch, while others are hard, solid plastic. There is also a variety of surface textures available. Some foam rollers have smooth surfaces, while others have knobbly or ridged surfaces designed to dig deeper into muscles.

Using a Foam Roller

A foam roller is used by lying or sitting on the roller so that pressure is applied to whichever muscle is being targeted. Either holding the position or rolling slowly back and forth over a particular muscle group is possible. A common method is to roll slowly until a tender spot is found. That position is then held, allowing the roller to apply pressure deeply on the tender spot.

Foam rollers are multi-purpose. There are a few different ways foam rolling can benefit health and wellness.

Self-Myofascial Release

Myofascial release is a means of relaxing contracted, tight, stuck muscles. These areas of tightness are termed knots, adhesions, or trigger points. Myofascial release also encourages lymphatic drainage and directs blood flow to targeted areas, which can help heal injuries. The fascia is a type of tissue located throughout the body that surrounds muscles and organs. Like other tissues, the fascia can develop tight spots. A foam roller is one way to improve fascia functioning.


Stretching out muscles and joints is useful for improving the range of motion and can help relieve many types of pain. It can also improve physical abilities, which is good both for making everyday living easier and for enhancing athletic performance. A foam roller is a natural stretching tool. Most of the moves designed to relieve tension in muscle also double as stretches. The hips in particular are an area where a foam roller makes for a fantastic stretching tool.


A foam roller can be used both directly in certain exercises and to indirectly help a person get more out of their workouts. By helping muscles regain full functionality, myofascial release can correct problems such as muscle imbalance and muscle weakness which otherwise hamper exercise. Foam rolling is also a form of exercise itself because the body must be actively supported during foam rolling. Most foam rolling positions especially use the core.

Pain Relief

As described earlier, myofascial release is valuable for addressing injuries and helping sore, tight muscles relax. Muscles almost inevitably develop trigger points when overworked or strained. In these areas of impingement, the muscle becomes stuck in a contraction, unable to relax. Applying deep pressure to the muscle can make it relax. This is the principle behind all forms of therapeutic massage, including self-massage with a foam roller.

Areas of Use

You can use a foam roller on different areas throughout the body. Major muscle groups are usually the areas most appropriate for foam roller use. The calves, upper legs, and hips are particularly suited to foam roller use. However, the arms, back, and even feet can benefit. Rolling on the spine can be dangerous. You must avoid direct spinal pressure.

Foam Rollers in Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is all about helping patients recover from injuries. Improving mobility and basic physical functioning are also goals.

Foam rollers can play a valuable role in these efforts. Myofascial release, stretching, and pain relief are all important elements of physical therapy. Crucially, physical therapists have the expertise to help patients get the most out of foam rolling. A physical therapist can recommend the most effective stretches and tell patients which areas of their body will most benefit from foam rolling.

For any further information on foam rolling, or to schedule an appointment, please call Cawley Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation at 570-208-2787 today.