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Foam Rolling Myths - Physio Penrith

Foam Rolling Myths - Why Foam Rolling Doesn't Work

Foam rolling doesn't break up adhesions nor does it loosen up tight muscles

Most people think foam rolling works by breaking up adhesions in soft tissue like knots or trigger points or that it is making muscles and fascia less stiff and less tight. Other theories include increased blood flow, temperature change and fluid exchange and altered muscle architecture.

Then we have Neurological effects such as analgesia from stimulating our mechanoreceptors, altering our pressure pain sensitivity, providing a diffuse noxious inhibitory control from the degree of pressure applied, and changing muscle amplitude.

And finally we have the psychobiological effects such as the release of endorphins and THE PLACEBO EFFECT. This is one that is often heavily ignored and not factored in when you talk to the vast majority on this topic - but we actually have a substantial amount of evidence supporting this category of effects.


These are the four main categories that research has chunked as the possible effects that we see occur with foam rolling:

  • Mechanical

  • Physiological

  • Neurological

  • Psychobiological

Fortunately we’ve had research try to dig deeper into these and examine which ones are possible, which ones have more of an effect, and which are not likely occurring or doing much of anything.

, stretch tolerance

Stretching Physio Penrith.jpg

This study certainly appeals to our bias of what a waste of time stretching is. The authors investigated the relationship between running economy (running faster while expending less energy) and lower body flexibility. They used the old sit and reach test to measure flexibility of the lower body.

The results suggest that the least flexible runners are also the most economical! So stretching and attempting to become more flexible negatively affects running performance.

Some research supported stretching truths:

At Sydney Muscle & Joint Clinic our avoidance of using stretching is based on these key scientific features:

  • Load builds capacity: most of rehab is (or should be) just “load management” — applying progressive load to increase the resilience of the injured or damaged tissue in each phase of recovery. Stretching obviously doesn’t have much to contribute to load management.

  • Stretching improves your tolerance: any gains thought to be due to stretching is probably due to an increase in tolerance of stretch, and that’s all. It’s one of many clues suggesting that stretch tolerance is the secret sauce in flexibility. You provide a noxious, uncomfortable sensation during a stretch and your brain perceives this threat. When it realises it is of no consequence, our brains send out an inhibitory neuron to dull the sensation and we perceive this as a therapeutic benefit. In other words, muscle (probably) doesn’t change, especially in response to an average stretching regimen … but our willingness to elongate it probably does. This is clearly supported by some research.

  • Anatomy has its limits: deeper hip sockets, longer parts of the vertebra, tighter connective tissue, are all examples of anatomical variants that will impact stretching and make certain muscle groups mechanically impossible to stretch.

  • PNF stretching: which involves the contract-relax (CR) method, was investigated in a 2011 study with results showing with or without a contraction, the result was the same: a slight increase.

  • Stretching for back pain: a common treatment is stretching hamstrings to treat back pain, but it is not effective, because there’s no correlation between back pain and how the hamstrings are behaving in the first place.

  • Stretching for tendon pain: tendons change only in response to long term “just right” loading (or exercise) and actually get super annoyed with compressive load most often seen in stretching.

  • It feels good: the only and best reason for stretching.

  • Stretching to warm up: you can't warm muscles up by stretching, it's like trying to cook a steak by pulling on it. Overwhelming evidence in this study showed that stretch durations of 30-45 seconds imparted no significant effect

Stretching for back pain is old world, not supported by research and can actually irritate your low back.

Most back pain presentations have what we call "flexion intolerance", this means your pain is irritated by prolonged sitting, driving and repeated bending. Bending of lumbar flexion will irritate you back pain, so why would you do a hamstring stretch that places your irritable back in a bent position? It's madness and should be done or prescribed by a physiotherapist. 

Find out the directional preference of your low back during painful episodes and focus on these movements.

Back Pain And Stretching_Physio Penrith.

stretching provides NO benefit and should not be utilised unless you do it to feel good.

Stretching Low Back Pain_Physio Penrith.

"...current findings indicate a link between increased tolerance to stretch, pain inhibition and shows us that stretching doesn't work by lengthening muscles, but by inhibiting the uncomfortable sensation of stretching - tricking us that the stretch has been of benefit"

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