Foam rollers – training tool or training trap?

In my physiotherapy clinic I am often asked by runners and other athletes about the use of foam rollers. Over recent times, foam rollers have gained popularity as ‘soft tissue release’  tools that can be used at home. The proposed benefit of using a roller is to benefit from a soft tissue massage in the comfort of your own home. Some people swear by them and will religiously roll daily and report fantastic yet painful benefits.

Interestingly physiotherapist and lecturer Professor Roger Kerry talked about the use of foam rollers to the Huffington Post and stated it succinctly, “if you already have painful, tense or achy body parts adding further pressure to those areas is obviously going to hurt more”. Professor Kerry stated that whilst there may be circulatory changes during foam rolling, research around any other benefits is thin; any reported benefits may even be more psychological in nature. Essentially the use of foam rollers should be guided by user comfort, there are no reasons why painful rolling should be endured.

Yet athletes seem to accept that their bodies will become tight and painful during training.  You train hard, you hurt the next day. Cause and effect, ‘no pain – no gain’. Fair enough, right? Not necessarily. Have you ever actually stopped to question why those hamstrings have got so tight that no amount of stretching or rolling seems to allow them to release? Why is it that your low back starts to ache after running 4 miles? Or why do your calves are absolute agony when you foam roll them?  …Must be the training… Or could it be your body subtly crying out for help? Perhaps your brain trying to tell you that you’ve pushed beyond normal limits? That perhaps that the wrong muscles are now being forced to try and make you faster?

There’s a fine line between physiological training overload pain (and gain) and detrimental training overload pain due to poor bio-mechanics, muscle imbalance or proprioceptive deficits that may lead to an injury.

In my clinic I use a precise clinical reasoning process that allows me to find and treat the underlying cause that will resolve the presenting symptoms. Providing a long term solution and not a short term fix compliments performance with minimal disruption to training or activity.

For an appointment contact Nick on 07932 574 945 or email


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