Foam Rollers Promote Muscle Flexibility | News | Loyola Medicine
Monday, February 2, 2015

Newer foam rollers promote muscle flexibility, reduce potential for injury

Loyola exercise physiologist offers tips on using the popular exercise tool

MELROSE PARK, Ill. (January 22, 2015) – Everyone knows you are supposed to stretch before engaging in exercise to limber up. But what if stretching hurts?

"Think of your muscles as shoelaces,” advises Mike Ross, exercise physiologist, Gottlieb Center for Fitness. “If you have a knot in your muscle, stretching pulls it tighter."

The answer to eliminating the knots and restoring optimal flexibility is foam rollers. Not the pink foam rubber variety used to curl hair, but rather the large, plastic foam cylindrical shapes used in floor exercise. "Foam rollers are a way to improve muscle length and reduce the potential for injury," says Ross. "Rather than pulling your muscles as in traditional stretching, you are kneading them and breaking up adhesions in the muscle to loosen up before engaging in more strenuous activity." 

Exercise foam rollers come in all shapes and sizes, from 36-inch, smooth, pool noodle-like rods to thick, stubbed, hard pillow-like cradles. Each is designed to target pressure points. "Foam rollers were traditionally used in rehabilitation by physical therapists with patients and athletes," says Ross, who works with clients at Gottlieb Center for Fitness, part of Gottlieb Memorial Hospital. "Like many other specialized devices, foam rollers have now gone mainstream."

Ross, who has been foam rolling for more than a decade, offers these tips for beginners:


  1. Before using a foam roller, boost your blood circulation by walking, biking or exercising for 5 minutes. 
  2. Foam rollers can be used before or after your workout, or both. 
  3. The quadriceps (thigh muscles) and calves (back of lower leg) will benefit the most from this tool. 
  4. Roll your body over the foam roller, up and down the length of the muscle and pause over any painful areas for 30 seconds or more to allow the weight of your body to squeeze the knot against the roller. 
  5. Avoid rolling over your joints. 


"Many people are buying their own foam rollers so they can use them at home, but most health centers also have a large selection of rollers," says Ross. "At the Gottlieb Center of Fitness, we have many rollers available for people who want to use them during their workout."

About Loyola Medicine and Trinity Health

Loyola Medicine, a member of Trinity Health, is a quaternary care system based in the western suburbs of Chicago that includes Loyola University Medical Center (LUMC), Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, MacNeal Hospital and convenient locations offering primary and specialty care services from 1,877 physicians throughout Cook, Will and DuPage counties. LUMC is a 547-licensed-bed hospital in Maywood that includes the William G. and Mary A. Ryan Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine, the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, a Level 1 trauma center, Illinois's largest burn center, a certified comprehensive stroke center and a children’s hospital. Having delivered compassionate care for over 50 years, Loyola also trains the next generation of caregivers through its teaching affiliation with Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine and Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing. Gottlieb is a 247-licensed-bed community hospital in Melrose Park with 150 physician offices, an adult day care program, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, the Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park. MacNeal Hospital is a 374-bed teaching hospital in Berwyn with advanced inpatient and outpatient medical, surgical and psychiatric services, advanced diagnostics and treatments. MacNeal has a 12-bed acute rehabilitation unit, a 25-bed inpatient skilled nursing facility, and a 68-bed behavioral health program and community clinics. MacNeal has provided quality, patient-centered care to the near west suburbs since 1919.

Trinity Health is one of the largest multi-institutional Catholic healthcare systems in the nation, serving diverse communities that include more than 30 million people across 22 states. Trinity Health includes 94 hospitals, as well as 109 continuing care locations that include PACE programs, senior living facilities and home care and hospice services. Its continuing care programs provide nearly 2.5 million visits annually. Based in Livonia, Mich., and with annual operating revenues of $18.3 billion and assets of $26.2 billion, the organization returns $1.1 billion to its communities annually in the form of charity care and other community benefit programs. Trinity employs about 133,000 colleagues, including 7,800 employed physicians and clinicians. Committed to those who are poor and underserved in its communities, Trinity is known for its focus on the country's aging population. As a single, unified ministry, the organization is the innovator of Senior Emergency Departments, the largest not-for-profit provider of home health care services—ranked by number of visits—in the nation, as well as the nation’s leading provider of PACE (Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly) based on the number of available programs.