Shop top-rated foam rollers for to sooth sore, tight muscles.
Whether you want to relieve muscle soreness or ease tension and tightness, foam rollers are one of the best things you can have in your fitness arsenal for recovery. Foam rolling, aka self-myofascial release, works to relieve this tension by making the top layers of the tissues on your muscles more flexible. This top layer of tissue is called fascia and connects different muscle groups in your body. It is also believed that foam rolling works to increase the internal muscle temperature, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). When you foam roll, it creates friction between your muscles, and this heat causes the tissues to become more gel-like, and therefore, more flexible.
There are a variety of foam rollers out there, from low-density to medium-density to extra-firm to textured ones and even vibrating foam rollers. But deciding which one is best for you comes down to personal preference. "You need to try the roller and find one that is comfortable. Soft, medium, hard...whatever feels best for you. Foam rolling should not be painful. If it's too painful, you need to adjust your bodyweight compression on the area and progress to a certain amount of pressure, as opposed to just diving into the deep end," explains Dan Giordano, PT, DPT, CSCS, co-founder and director of physical therapy at Bespoke Treatments.
Soft and medium-density foam rollers can help remove the knots in your muscles and relieve trigger points after a sore workout. On the other hand, firmer foam rollers are best when you need an intense, deeper myofascial release. Then, there are the foam rollers with bumpy knobs and wave-like ridges. "I believe that the rollers that have a variation in surface texture will help best with relieving pain," Giordano says. These foam rollers really dig into your trigger points to release tension. They work best in the shoulder area, where you may feel more tightness than usual, from sitting in a desk all day or lifting heavy objects.
When it comes to vibrating foam rollers, Jordan Metzl, MD, a sports medicine doctor, Prevention Advisory Board member, and author of the best-selling book, The Athlete's Book of Home Remedies: 1,001 Doctor-Approved Health Fixes and Injury-Prevention Secrets for a Leaner, Fitter, More Athletic Body, says, "Even though we don't have much science yet on a vibrating foam rollers versus traditional ones, my sense is that they work very well and we will see more of them in the future."
Giordano agrees: "In theory, the horizontal vibration will help increase blood flow to the area, stimulating the nervous system and prep your muscles for activity. Until further research is done, vibrating rollers are more of a luxury than a need."
If you're not sure what kind of foam roller is best for your fitness needs, Dr. Metzl says a good place to start is a soft or medium-firm roller.
To use a foam roller, roll up and down and side to side one- to two-inch areas of your body. Once you get the right amount of pressure on the roller—and it shouldn't be painful—roll up and down a few inches at a time, stopping and going side to side on a trigger point, Giordano says.
You want to roll on the tense areas and then off it—but don't hold the roller on the area. "Digging into or mashing the area can cause bruising or some inflammation," Giordano says. You also want to avoid foam rolling your lower back and anything above your neck. Direct pressure on the lumbar spine can cause surrounding muscles to spasm, which is painful and can be counterproductive, Giordano says. If you're warming up for a workout, foam roll for 15 to 30 seconds per muscle group and to cool down, roll 90 to 120 seconds per muscle group.
To help you choose the best foam roller for you, here are some of our top picks.