Can foam rolling ease muscle soreness?

We’ve all been there. We embark on a new workout routine and end up stiff, sore, and out of commission for days.

You can blame micro tears in the muscle fibers, notes David Behm, a professor in the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation at Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada.

“They’re caused by doing eccentric muscle contractions or exercise that your body is unaccustomed to,” he explains. (Eccentric contractions occur when a muscle lengthens as it’s stressed. They explain why your thighs may be sore after a long downhill hike.)

“When we get those little tears, our body treats them like an injury and sends in the immune system to repair them,” says Behm. “That leads to inflammation—and soreness—that can last for two or three days, sometimes more.”

Contrary to popular belief, stretching before or after exercise won’t prevent muscle soreness.

“If you’re already sore and you stretch, the soreness might go away while you’re stretching, and that can feel nice,” says Behm. But don’t expect lasting relief.

What might help?

“Buy a foam roller,” Behm suggests. You can use the dense foam cylinder to massage your muscles.

“Our studies show that rolling on foam after exercise reduces soreness.”

In one study, 20 young men did 10 sets of 10 squats—enough to cause micro tears that should later hurt. Half used a foam roller to massage their thigh and glute muscles for 20 minutes immediately after squatting and again 24 and 48 hours later. The foam-rollers reported less soreness than those who did nothing.

Less pain wasn’t the only upside. “Intense exercise that results in micro tears impairs range of motion, speed, and force, but foam rolling mitigates all those impairments,” says Behm.

And that may enable you to get back to your workout more quickly.

The Bottom Line: Try foam rolling to reduce muscle soreness.

Photos: contrastwerkstatt/

The information in this post first appeared in the September 2020 issue of Nutrition Action Healthletter.

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