Foam rolling is an incredibly popular form of myofascial release. Manufacturers of foam rollers promise the moon. Some even claim that foam rolling will reduce cellulite. (Oh, if it were only that easy.)
But there’s really not a lot of scientific research on foam rolling. Here’s what we know:
DOES IT BREAK UP SCAR TISSUE?
The short answer is NO. A recent study that examined the results of 10 publications/144 patients who received scar massage. “Although scar massage is anecdotally effective, there is scarce scientific data in the literature to support it.”
Scar tissue is extremely dense. No amount of foam rolling will "break it up".
DOES IT IMPROVE FLEXIBILITY?
The short answer is YES. A recent review of 110 articles found “the largest average effect of pre-rolling was related to flexibility. 62% of the population will experience short-term improvements in flexibility when using pre-rolling as a pre-exercise warm-up."
The researchers go onto say, “The most plausible explanation for short-term improvements in flexibility could be the effect of foam rolling on the central pain-modulatory systems... it may overload the skin receptors, thus inhibiting or minimizing pain sensation and increasing stretch tolerance.”
Notice how they said, “The most plausible explanation”, “could be”, and “may”? As I said earlier, there’s not a lot of scientific research on foam rolling, and most of the studies that have been done include very small sample sizes.
And although the research demonstrated an increase in short-term flexibility, it is possible that consistent foam rolling might improve long-term flexibility. But as of right now, there aren't any studies to support that claim.
DOES IT IMPROVE RECOVERY?
The short answer is YES. The results of a recent laboratory study demonstrated: "Foam rolling substantially improved quadriceps muscle tenderness by a moderate to large amount in the days after fatigue (Cohen d range, 0.59 to 0.84). "
We know that an increase in blood flow and temperature aids in healing/recovery, so active recovery (foam rolling, walking, etc) is a no-brainer. Get up and move!