For all the jazz around foam-rolling these days it may be surprising to know that the underlying mechanisms are still not well understood and there is a paucity of high-quality and well-designed studies available.
Some of the proposed mechanisms of effect may include:
1. Reflex neural inhibition
2. Increased stretch tolerance
3. Mediating pain-modulatory systems
What we do know is that foam-rolling appears to be effective for producing short-term gains in flexibility without reducing performance. And while the benefits to muscle function have not yet been established, there does seem to be a demonstrable reduction in post-exercise muscle soreness as a result of post-exercise rolling.
So, from the research that we do have, it’s safe to say that foam-rolling is perhaps not the miracle saviour for poor exercises choices or not moving enough that we once thought it was.
1. A Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Foam Rolling on Performance and Recovery. Wiewelhove, et al. 2019
2. The Science and Physiology of Flexibility and Stretching : Implications and Applications in Sport Performance and Health. Behm, 2018.