About Author Dr. Mark Hines
He is an exercise physiologist and biomechanist, based in London, England.
He lectures on various topics relating to human physiology, nutrition and dietetics, exercise rehabilitation and biomechanics.
Mark has also published a variety of books on extreme endurance races, nutrition and health.
BY DR. MARK HINES
June 4, 2021
The use of foam rollers (FR) has increased in popularity over recent decades. They have been purported to be beneficial for self-myofascial release, exercise recovery and sports performance. More recently, the addition of vibration functions to foam rollers has broadened their scope and potential. With their relatively new development there is a limited but growing pool of research. The purpose of this article is to review some of the latest research available on vibrating foam rollers (VFR).
Before exploring the benefits of any device used in exercise, it is important to consider all aspects of safety. With application of vibration to a muscle or joint, there is potential to influence the nervous system and the way muscles behave. Two recent studies in my own laboratory compared VFR application to lower limb muscles, comparing the highest and lowest levels of vibration to a standard (non-vibrating) foam roll, and a control group (Schonewald and Hines, 2019; Haag and Hines, 2020). Muscle electrical activity and standing balance were assessed to measure any negative impact of vibration on muscle activity and nervous system control. Both studies demonstrated no negative impact of VFR on balance or muscle activity, providing evidence that these devices are safe and appropriate for further study.
A recent investigation assessed the effectiveness of VFR compared with FR on the recovery of runners (Lai et al., 2020). The study measured blood flow to the calf muscles and reported some improvement from VFR compared with FR. Another recent study (Romero-Moraleda et al., 2019) assessed recovery following resistance training. Overall, both VFR and FR led to improvements in oxygen transport, pain sensitivity, knee range of motion (ROM) and jump performance. The addition of vibration led to greater short-term improvements in muscle pain perception and hip ROM (Romero-Moraleda et al., 2019), supporting the idea that VFR is preferable to FR.
In addition to the study showing improved ROM during recovery, other studies have investigated the effects of VFR on ROM directly (not during recovery). A recent study showed that FR and VFR both increased ROM of the ankle joint, with VFR ROM being marginally greater (García-Gutiérrez et al., 2018). Interestingly, the use of VFR also led to improved ROM in the non-treated ankle, demonstrating a positive effect via the nervous system. A similar finding was reported in another study, with VFR being more effective than FR at increasing hamstring flexibility (Lim and Park, 2019). One study demonstrated that only VFR was effective at improving lower limb ROM and not FR (Reiner et al., 2021). Overall, research supports the use of VFR for increasing lower limb ROM, which has now been demonstrated by multiple studies (Reiner et al., 2021: de Benito et al., 2019; Romero-Moraleda et al., 2019; García-Gutiérrez et al., 2018).
There is limited evidence that VFR or FR improve functional outcomes. One of the studies that found a benefit of VFR for hamstring flexibility did not find a change in jump performance (Lim and Park, 2019). However, a more recent study (Reiner et al., 2021) found that VFR was effective at increasing knee power whilst reducing stiffness. Although the investigators also reported benefits of FR, the improvements in flexibility with VFR led the authors to recommend VFR over FR for overall performance (Reiner et al., 2021).
Vibrating foam rollers are effective in supporting recovery after exercise, increasing joint flexibility, and improving some measures of performance, overall the addition of vibration improves outcomes.
de Benito AM, Valldecabres R, Ceca D, Richards J, Barrachina Igual J, Pablos A. Effect of vibration vs non-vibration foam rolling techniques on flexibility, dynamic balance and perceived joint stability after fatigue. PeerJ. 2019 Nov 26;7:e8000. doi: 10.7717/peerj.8000. PMID: 31788353; PMCID: PMC6883953.
García-Gutiérrez MT, Guillén-Rogel P, Cochrane DJ, Marín PJ. Cross transfer acute effects of foam rolling with vibration on ankle dorsiflexion range of motion. J Musculoskelet Neuronal Interact. 2018 Jun 1;18(2):262-267. PMID: 29855449; PMCID: PMC6016502.
Haag A, and Hines M, (2020) “Effect of vibrating foam roller on standing balance and electromyographical activity”, Unpublished master’s degree thesis, British College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Lai YH, Wang AY, Yang CC, Guo LY. The Recovery Benefit on Skin Blood Flow Using Vibrating Foam Rollers for Postexercise Muscle Fatigue in Runners. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Dec 6;17(23):9118. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17239118. PMID: 33291311; PMCID: PMC7730244.
Lim JH, Park CB. The immediate effects of foam roller with vibration on hamstring flexibility and jump performance in healthy adults. J Exerc Rehabil. 2019 Feb 25;15(1):50-54. doi: 10.12965/jer.1836560.280. PMID: 30899736; PMCID: PMC6416504.
Reiner MM, Glashüttner C, Bernsteiner D, Tilp M, Guilhem G, Morales-Artacho A, Konrad A. A comparison of foam rolling and vibration foam rolling on the quadriceps muscle function and mechanical properties. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2021 May;121(5):1461-1471. doi: 10.1007/s00421-021-04619-2. Epub 2021 Feb 26. PMID: 33638016; PMCID: PMC8064982.
Romero-Moraleda B, González-García J, Cuéllar-Rayo Á, Balsalobre-Fernández C, Muñoz-García D, Morencos E. Effects of Vibration and Non-Vibration Foam Rolling on Recovery after Exercise with Induced Muscle Damage. J Sports Sci Med. 2019 Feb 11;18(1):172-180. PMID: 30787665; PMCID: PMC6370959.
Schonewald L, and Hines M, (2020) “Effect of vibrating foam roller on standing balance and electromyographical activity”, Unpublished master’s degree thesis, British College of Osteopathic Medicine.