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Foam Roller vs. Stretches – Which is Better?

posted Sep 8, 2015, 2:48 PM by Rebecca Smith
Have you ever been to the gym and seen someone rolling their legup and down on something that is essentially just a roll and thought to yourself “What on Earth are they doing?” Well to answer that question, they are using what is called a “foam roller” and they are stretching out a muscle/structure of their body. But you may be asking “Why don’t they just do stretches?” Well, that’s a good question, but to answer that, let’s take a look at what stretches are and how they can be beneficial in their own right.

Stretches can basically be defined as “exercises” that extend a muscle and/or structure of the body to its full length. Stretches can be classed as either static, dynamic or PNF.

Static stretches are when you stretch and hold that position for an extended amount of time without moving. These are typically what everyone thinks about when they hear the word “stretch”.

Dynamic stretches on the other hand are when you stretch and relax and then repeat for a certain duration of time. Think what the football players do when they continuously kick their legs up and down before a game.

PNF stretches involve a person contracting the muscle that needs to be stretched, followed by then stretching the muscle. As a physiotherapist, whenever I conclude that my clients have tight muscles, I usually prescribe static and/or PNF stretches as these result in optimal improvement in extensibility, while dynamic stretches are more preferable to warm up before exercising or playing sports.

Most muscles and structures of the body are easy to stretch and most of the time stretches will result in optimal improvement in range of motion. However, there is always one structure of the body that is always difficult to stretch, especially if you don’t have someone around to assist you in stretching: And that is the ITB (Iliotibial band). This structure is not a muscle, rather it is a thick band of fascia that runs along the outside of your thigh. ITB syndrome is an overuse injury that causes leg and knee pain, and has been commonly seen in my physiotherapy clinical experience. Although there are many causes of the condition, a tight ITB is one of the main reasons, which means stretch, stretch, and more stretching. However, there are some of you, especially those that have had ITB syndrome that realise how difficult this structure can be to stretch. So if your usual stretches can’t help, then how can you extend the ITB.

This is where the foam roller comes in and can help save the day. By rolling out the ITB on the foam roller, the ITB is stretched out hence increasing its extensibility and improving the symptoms associated with ITB syndrome and preventing its reoccurrence in the future. In a way, a foam roller can be thought of a mixture between getting a massage and doing a stretch. Seeing your physiotherapist whenever you have muscle pain and tightness is the best option. This is because your physio will provide you with a massage and will know which parts of the muscle/structure need more attention. However, doing stretches and using a foam roller in between appointments will enable you to continue the stretching process. In addition to providing you with a massage, your physio will also be able to teach you the correct stretches and foam roller exercises to do.

So to answer the overall question of foam roller or stretch: stretch first; foam roller if the stretches are not doing enough; but see your physiotherapist for the best advice since every person and their situation is different.

Have you been experiencing muscle tightness or would like to know more about the best stretches and foam roller exercises for yourself, then book yourself an appointment with Arron or myself.


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