Sunday 28th May, 2023

Is foam rolling scientifically proven

Foam roller marketing
Most "scientific" claims about foam rollers are just marketing hype

Marketers and advocates claim that science shows foam rolling will increase flexibility, reduce post exercise soreness (DOMS) and speed recovery, and improve athletic performance. The reality is that science found that any such benefits were trivial, negligible or very short lived. In other words, despite the marketing science shows foam rolling to be practically useless.

If you are looking for benefits such as increased flexibility, reduced post exercise soreness, faster recovery and increased performance, in this article we’ll show you what science really says about foam rolling, then the alternatives actually shown to get the results you are looking for.


Increasing flexibility
Reducing post exercise soreness and speeding recovery
Increasing performance

Increasing flexibility

Does foam rolling increase flexibility

Foam rolling will increase flexibility, but this only lasts less than 10 minutes (1–3)⁠. Further, one study showed that an 8 week course of foam rolling produced no long term increase in flexibility (4)⁠. In other words, if you spend 10 minutes foam rolling, by the time you finish the first muscles you did will have lost any increase.

Misleading marketing

Advocates and marketers will use statements such as “foam rolling gave an acute increase in flexibility”. In this context “acute” means having a sudden onset and a short course, but most people won't understand that and realise the implications.

Your scientifically proven ways to improve your flexibility

Conventional stretching exercises

Conventional stretching exercises are arguably the benchmark for helping increase flexibility, giving excellent and lasting results (5,6)⁠. However, there is a potential issue with using them as part of a warm-up before competition or a work out. Conventional stretches can 1) decrease performance, and 2) increase the risk of injury by allowing joints to move beyond their normal ranges (5,7)⁠.

For more information: Warm-ups: a guide to the best massages, stretches and exercises

A dynamic warm-up

These are basically exercises and movements done before competition or a work out. These have proven to give an excellent increase in flexibility, arguably without the risk of causing joints to move beyond their normal ranges (8)⁠.

For more information: Warm-ups: a guide to the best massages, stretches and exercises

Genuine vibration massage⁠

Vibration at therapeutic frequencies (30-60 hz (cycles per second)) will relax muscles allowing them to lengthen, arguably without the risk of causing joints to move beyond their normal ranges (9)⁠.

For more information Warm-ups: a guide to the best massages, stretches and exercises

Warning about percussion massagers (massage guns)

Massage gun marketers claim the benefits of vibration, but the reality is that they are designed to drive their heads in “pummeling” muscles rather than deliver therapeutic vibrations. As a result percussion massagers:

  • deliver far less therapeutic vibrations than a genuine vibration massager, and
  • are far more likely to cause damage or injury.

For more information: Do massage guns actually work

Reducing post exercise soreness and speeding recovery

Does foam rolling reduce post exercise soreness and speed recovery

Marketers and advocates will mention trials that have shown that foam rollers reduce post exercise soreness and speed recovery. The reality is that there have been a great number of trials with some showing a small improvement (which they tell you about) while others show the opposite. In summary, a recent scientific review of all 21 studies they concluded that any effects on performance and recovery were rather minor or negligible (10)⁠.

Your scientifically proven ways to reduce post exercise soreness and speed recovery

To reduce post exercise soreness and speed recovery, rather than just use some sort of tool or therapy we recommend a complete approach including appropriate sleep, rest, nutrition, hydration, and other aids. We provide this in our article The practical, science based guide to post exercise recovery . There are a lot of therapies marketed for this purpose, including cryotherapy, compression, massage guns and of course foam rollers. Science shows that none of these are particularly useful, however, the following have been shown to help.

Genuine vibration massage

Genuine vibration massage has been shown to give very worthwhile reductions in pain and to speed recovery (1,5–13) . Science shows that vibration massage relaxes muscles and increases blood flow, plus as discussed in our  Does vibration help healing  it has some quite remarkable additional effects.

  • speeding the growth of muscle fibres
  • reducing the amount of scar tissue formed
  • causes and increase in the body’s production of growth hormones
Vibration massage can easily be self applied

A very big advantage of genuine vibration massage is with the proper proper equipment it can easily be self applied.

For more information: The best massage for sports recovery

Foam roller vs professional therapist

Manual massage performed by a professional therapist

Science shows that manual massage therapy performed by a professional therapist is not as effective as genuine vibration, but still very useful. It will help healing by relaxing the muscles, plus the squeezing and mechanical pumping effects of the massage will increase blood flow, flushing wastes and bringing in fresh nutrients and oxygen. Because of this some clinical trials of massage have produced good results in reducing post exercise soreness and speeding recovery (11–14)⁠. Although foam rolling advocates claim the benefits of conventional massage, for the reasons shown in this diagram their results will be far inferior.

Multiple applications are better than one

Within reason, most of these therapies will be more effective if applied regularly rather than once. Therefore as well as the cost benefits, being able to do something yourself allows this regular application. The idea is that foam rollers allow the more regular application of conventional massage. However, we have seen from the above diagram and the scientific results that foam rollers are no where near as effective as massage delivered by a professional therapist. On the other hand genuine vibration massage is highly effective, and can be easily self applied.

Improving athletic performance

Does foam rolling improve athletic performance

Clinical trials have shown that foam rollers give no improvement in performance (15–18)⁠⁠⁠, nor does conventional massage have any effect on strength, endurance or fatigue (19)⁠.

Comparing foam rolling with stretching exercises

Conventional stretches can cause a reduction in performance. Advocates recommend foam rolling as is does not cause such a reduction. However, as we will see though there are better ways that will not cause a reduction in performance, and may even give you an increase.

Your scientifically proven ways to improve performance

Dynamic warm-ups

A dynamic warm-up means doing movement or activities before a workout or competition. Examples include exercising. They have been shown to increase flexibility and strength (8)⁠. One trial found that compared with no warm-up dynamic warm-ups actually increased the height an athlete could jump by 2” (5cm) (20)⁠⁠.

For more information on dynamic warm-ups: Warm-ups: a guide to the best massages, stretches and exercises

Genuine vibration massage

According to the results of many clinical trials the application of vibration massage of 30-60 Hz before exercise will have these positive effects:

  • increase flexibility similar to that achieved by stretching exercises (8)⁠⁠
  • enhance strength (21,22)⁠⁠, and
  • increase the time taken for muscles to fatigue (23)⁠⁠⁠.
  • decrease post exercise soreness (24,25)⁠

For further information: _Your Science Based Guide To Sports Massages: Types, Benefits And Recommendations

Professional at desk


DrGraeme massagers were originally built by Dr Graeme for use in his clinic, and to prescribe to his patients for additional self use at home. Now these are used by colleagues and other professionals for similar purposes. If you are a professional and wish to know more about this therapy, or possibly get a sample massager to trial please check out our practitioner page .


  1. DeBruyne DM, Dewhurst MM, Fischer KM, Wojtanowski MS, Durall C. Self-mobilization using a foam roller versus a roller massager: Which is more effective for increasing hamstrings flexibility? J Sport Rehabil. 2017;26(1):94–100.
  2. Konrad A, Nakamura M, Behm DG. The Effects of Foam Rolling Training on Performance Parameters: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis including Controlled and Randomized Controlled Trials. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022;19(18).
  3. Pagaduan JC, Chang SY, Chang NJ. Chronic Effects of Foam Rolling on Flexibility and Performance: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022;19(7).
  4. Miller JK, Rockey AM. Foam Rollers Show No Increase in the Flexibility of the Hamstring Muscle Group. UW-LJournal Undergrad Res. 2006;1–4.
  5. Harvey L et. al. Does stretching induce lasting increases in joint ROM - a systematic review. Physiother Res Int. 2001;7(1):1–13.
  6. Ford P, McChesney J. Duration of maintained hamstring ROM following termination of three stretching protocols. Vol. 16, Journal of Sport Rehabilitation. 2007. p. 18–27.
  7. Rubini EC, Costa ALL, Gomes PSC. The effects of stretching on strength performance. Sport Med. 2007;37(3):213–24.
  8. Aguilar AJ, DiStefano LJ, Brown CN, Herman DC, Guskiewicz KM, Padua DA. A dynamic warm-up model increases quadriceps strength and hamstring flexibility. J Strength Cond Res. 2012;26(4):1130–41.
  9. Kurt C. Alternative to traditional stretching methods for flexibility enhancement in well-trained combat athletes: Local vibration versus whole-body vibration. Biol Sport. 2015;32(3):225–33.
  10. Weiwlhove T. A Meta-Analysis of the effects of foam rolling on perforrmance and recovery. Front Physiol. 2019;10:376.
  11. Bender PU, Luz CM, Feldkircher JM NG. Massage therapy slightly decreased pain intensity after habitual running , but had no effect on fatigue , mood or physical performance : a randomised trial. J Physiother. 2019;65(2):75–80.
  12. Selim KAPLAN A. Effect of sport massage on pressure pain threshold and tolerance in athletes under eccentric exercise. Int J Sci Cult Sport. 2014;2(6):136–136.
  13. Naderi A, Aminian-Far A, Gholami F, Mousavi SH, Saghari M, Howatson G. Massage enhances recovery following exercise-induced muscle damage in older adults. Scand J Med Sci Sport. 2021;31(3):623–32.
  14. Kargarfard M, Lam ETC, Shariat A, Shaw I, Shaw BS, Tamrin SBM. Efficacy of massage on muscle soreness, perceived recovery, physiological restoration and physical performance in male bodybuilders. J Sports Sci. 2016;34(10):959–65.
  15. Mauntel TC, Clark MA, Padua DA. Effectiveness of Myofascial Release Therapies on Physical Performance Measurements: A Systematic Review . Athl Train Sport Heal Care. 2014;6(4):189–96.
  16. Phillips J, Diggin D, King DL, Sforzo GA. Effect of Varying Self-myofascial Release Duration on Subsequent Athletic Performance. J strength Cond Res. 2021;35(3):746–53.
  17. Beardsley C, Skarabot J. Effects of self-myofascial release : A systematic review. J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2015;
  18. Fama B, Bueti D. The acute effect of self-myofascial release on lower extremity plyometric performance. Masters Thesis. 2011;1–42.
  19. Davis HL, Alabed S, Chico TJA. Effect of sports massage on performance and recovery: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ Open Sport Exerc Med. 2020;6(1):e000614.
  20. Frant TL, Rui MD. Effects of dynamic warm-up on lower body explosiveness among collegiate baseball players. J Strength Cond Res. 2011;25(11):2985–90.
  21. Alghadir AH, Anwer S, Zafar H, Iqbal ZA. Effect of localised vibration on muscle strength in healthy adults: a systematic review. Physiother (United Kingdom). 2018;104(1):18–24.
  22. Pamukoff DN, Ryan ED, Troy Blackburn J. The acute effects of local muscle vibration frequency on peak torque, rate of torque development, and EMG activity. Vol. 24, Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology. 2014. p. 888–94.
  23. Otadi K et. a. A prophylactic effect of local vibration on quadriceps muscle fatigue in non-athletic males : a randomized controlled trial study. J Phys Ther Sci. 2019;31:223–6.
  24. Imtiyaz S, Veqar Z, Shareef MY. To compare the effect of vibration therapy and massage in prevention of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). J Clin Diagnostic Res. 2014;
  25. Aminianfar A et. al. Comparison of the local and whole body vibration on preventation and treatment of delay-onset muscle soreness: A randomized clinical trial. Koomesh. 2019;21(4):650–5.

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Dr Graeme

About Dr Graeme

Several years ago Dr Graeme, a Chiropractor practicing in Victoria, Australia was looking for a serious hand held massager his patients could use at home to get the extra quality massage they needed. The ones he found in the shops and on-line for home use looked nice but were not serious, and... read more

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