Increasing the length of the muscle–tendon unit may prevent musculotendinous injury. Various methods have been proposed to increase muscle–tendon flexibility, including self-mobilization using foam rollers or roller massagers, although the effectiveness of these devices is uncertain. This review was conducted to determine if the use of foam rollers or roller massagers to improve hamstrings flexibility is supported by moderate- to high-quality evidence.
Are foam rollers or roller massagers effective for increasing hamstrings flexibility in asymptomatic physically active adults?
Summary of Key Findings:
The literature was searched for studies on the effects of using foam rollers or roller massagers to increase hamstrings flexibility in asymptomatic physically active adults. Four randomized controlled trials were included; 2 studies provided level 2 or 3 evidence regarding foam rollers and 2 studies provided level 2 or 3 evidence regarding roller massagers. Both roller-massager studies reported increases in hamstrings flexibility after treatment. Data from the foam-roller studies did not demonstrate a statistically significant increase in hamstrings flexibility, but 1 study did demonstrate a strong effect size.
Clinical Bottom Line:
The reviewed moderate-quality studies support the use of roller massagers but provide limited evidence on the effectiveness of foam rolling to increase hamstrings flexibility in asymptomatic physically active adults. Flexibility gains may be improved by a longer duration of treatment and administration by a trained therapist. Gains appear to decline rapidly postrolling. Neither device has been shown to confer a therapeutic benefit superior to static stretching, and the effectiveness of these devices for preventing injury is unknown.
Strength of Recommendation:
Grade B evidence supports the use of roller massagers to increase hamstrings flexibility in asymptomatic physically active adults.
The authors are with the Physical Therapy Program, University of Wisconsin–La Crosse, La Crosse, WI.