So, if foam rolling doesn’t create change within the tissue why do we see positive results? Foam rolling moves bound fluid out and new fluid in (increasing blood flow and aiding in lymphatic drainage). With this process comes a renewal of tissue, removal of waste, and delivery of nourishment. All very positive results. However, the most important aspect of foam rolling involves its effect on the nervous system. On a very basic level, the human body alternates between a stressed state (sympathetic) and a relaxed state (parasympathetic). It is this very shifting that keeps us alive and well. The problem is, is that most of us find ourselves stuck in a stressed state with a certain inability to relax. With daily stress, inactivity, and instability, we find ourselves stuck in this state. If we are permanently in a stressed state, recovery suffers, sleep suffers, we compensate with poor movement patterns, and tissues begin to breakdown. This is why it’s so important to find ways to tell our body that it is in fact okay to relax.
At the end of the day, if we can get the nervous system to let go of its death grip and give us increases in ROM without even having to stretch, we’re going to program it. Foam rolling is only a small piece of the puzzle and creating change depends on several components within an integrated system. Strategies such as foam rolling, breathing, and static stretching only temporarily create change. What they really do is create a window of opportunity to create lasting change. The real question is what you do with that window.