A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

6 foam roller exercises to reduce muscle soreness

Muscle tightness in the legs and low back are common issues among physical therapy patients and in the general population.

“Foam rolling can be an effective way to loosen up large muscle groups faster and easier than a focal point massage,” said Dianne Kilgas, a Marshfield Clinic Health System physical therapist.

She recommends foam rolling to many of her patients who have muscle pain or tightness. However, it’s often not an appropriate treatment for those with a recent injury or long history of persistent pain.

The foam roller exercises in this video can help you reduce muscle soreness. They may improve your range of motion and muscle flexibility as well. You can purchase a foam roller at most sporting goods stores, and a variety of sizes and foam densities are available.

Download foam roller exercises


Take it slow

Passing over muscles too quickly and too many times are common foam rolling mistakes. Instead, pass over the muscles in a slow and controlled manner. Pause for 5-10 seconds on knots or sore areas, if tolerated.

Kilgas recommends beginners start by rolling each muscle group for 30 seconds. Take rest breaks as needed. Work your way up to 1-2 minutes as you get used to foam rolling and it becomes more comfortable.

You can foam roll before exercising in combination with a dynamic warm-up, or after working out in combination with an active cool-down and stretching to help muscles recover.

Most people benefit from foam rolling three to five times per week. Start with three sessions and work your way up to five. Foam rolling on a regular basis is important to maintain improvements in muscle sensitivity.

Rolling both legs at once is less intense and a better option for beginners and people with very sore muscles. Rolling your legs individually applies more pressure to each leg.

“You may not notice significant results the first time you use the foam roller,” Kilgas said. “In my experience, it takes a few sessions before the muscles become less sensitive. This often makes foam rolling more tolerable and enjoyable.”

Expect it to ‘hurt so good’

Foam rolling can be uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t be so painful that you can’t tolerate it. The discomfort shouldn’t last after you’ve finished foam rolling.

If a muscle feels very tender, try to brace yourself with your hands or feet to reduce pressure on the sensitive area. If the area is too sensitive for foam rolling, try using a tennis ball to massage the sore area or start a stretching routine instead.

Rolling isn’t for everyone

“Foam rolling can be very effective for the right individual,” Kilgas said. “It can be too intense for others and unsafe to perform if people have difficulty getting up from the floor.”

She doesn’t recommend foam rolling if you have a recent injury or a long history of persistent back or leg pain. Don’t foam roll if it is extremely painful or causes discomfort that lasts after you’re done.

Talk to your doctor or physical therapist if you’re interested in foam roller exercises but aren’t sure if it’s the right treatment for you.

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