What is a Foam Roller?
A foam roller is a tool used for a body therapy called self-myofascial release. Fascia training describes activities and exercises that attempt to improve the functional properties of the muscular connective tissues like tendons, ligaments, muscular envelops and joint capsules in the human body. With self-myofascial release, the foam rollers work on they sore spots, trigger points and tight areas of your body.
The pressure provided by rolling over the area can release tension in the muscle and increase circulation to warm muscles, making them flexible before exercise. Using foam rollers can prevent injury during a workout.
After exercise foam rolling enhances muscle recovery by breaking up muscle knots and tight spots. Rollers can also be used to increase blood flow to facilitate healing.
Various Types of Foam Rollers
While at one time, rollers were only seen at the gym or physical therapist’s office, now people buy them to use at home. It’s important to know about the varying kinds, their benefits, and when to use each type.
• Low Density Foam Rollers - You may have used these in an exercise class, and they’re ideal to use on sore muscles after over doing. When muscles are sore or tight because you pushed yourself in an exercise class or softball game, foam rollers work out “knots” in muscles. What feels like muscle knots are actually called myofascial adhesions or trigger points. Low-density means softer, so they don’t give you a deep tissue massage like denser versions.
• High Density Foam Rollers - These are the densest and hardest on the market and provide a more intense release. Athletes like to use the firmer foam roller to get a deeper more concentrated effect. Basically, the firmer the roller, the more intense the rolling session will be.
• Medium Density Foam Rollers - If you want to use one type of roller for all purposes, you should consider medium density rollers. They are softer than high density but harder than low density rollers.
• Short Foam Rollers - These are easier to store and transport and are ideal for focusing on specific muscles. For example, you might use short foam rollers on your quadriceps. These shorter versions are usually about half the length of the longer ones and come in both firm and soft densities. Short foam rollers are easier to take along on a trip.
• Bumpy or Textured Rollers - Foam rollers with texture, like bumpy knobs or wavey ridges are designed to dig in to trigger points in the muscles. These are better at releasing tight muscles quickly. They are also ideal for working multiple trigger points simultaneously.
• Half Foam Rollers - These are just as named. If you took a roller and cut it in half horizontally, so that you have a flat side and a rounded side, that’s a half foam roller.
This type is great for either targeting specific areas of the body, or rolling out the entire length of your muscles if you’re feeling sore after a long workout. Some people find that half foam rollers are easier to manage because they don’t have to balance on top. Using these can be more relaxing.
Basic Features of Foam Rollers
The different types of foam rollers boil down to their basic features. Therefore, when shopping for a foam roller, consider the following five characteristics and their purposes:
Density: a foam roller’s density determines how it feels and who should use it. More dense or firmer rollers are better at deep-tissue massage. Using a soft roller may not provide adequate pressure. On the other hand, a roller that’s too firm can cause bruising if used inappropriately. If you’re just starting out, choose a roller that’s on the softer side.
You can either tell density by squeezing or often by color. White is usually the softest, while black is hardest. Blue or red rollers tend to be in between. The different brands may not follow these color-density rules.
Surface Texture: Some foam rollers are just smooth but others have ridges or knobs that apply different amounts of pressure. Smooth rollers provide the same amount of pressure everywhere. It’s a good roller to use when you are just beginning. They tend to cost less, too. The textured or bumpy rollers are trying to mimic the hands of a masseuse. The variety of textures help find the right amount of pressure needed.
Shape: Most rollers take the usual shape and are about five or six inches in diameter. You can also choose rollers that are between three and four inches wide for a deeper massage.
There are also foam balls used for rolling and half round rollers that are flat on one side. The balls are ideal for targeting precise spots. They work well in curved areas of the body, like the lumbar area.
The half round foam rollers look like a foam roller cut in half lengthwise. They are used for leg and foot stretches, and to massage the feet arches to relieve the plantar fasciitis symptoms. Some rollers have irregular shapes rather than textured surfaces. They are actually foam-covered stick roller massagers, rather than just high-density foam.
Size: Shorter rollers travel well and work for smaller, target muscle areas like calves or biceps. There are even rollers only an inch or two long to work on feet and hands.
Electronics: There are vibrating foam rollers.
Top 7 Foam Rollers to Buy on Amazon
#1) TriggerPoint GRID Foam Roller for Exercise and Deep Tissue Massage
The TriggerPoint Grid Foam Roller has a unique, patent design with multi-density, grid patterned foam on the exterior and a hard hollow inner structure. The raised grids provide excellent trigger point stimulation for improved blood flow and reduced pain.
• The strong inner core won’t break even under 500 lbs of weight, and the textured foam surface is ideal for addressing muscle soreness, increasing flexibility, and improving balance.
• The dimensions are 13 inches long by about 5 inches wide, so it can be used for larger muscles.
• Comes in your choice of eight colors: Pink, Black, Midnight, Lime, Orange, Mint, Gray Camo, and Green Camo.
• Comes with a free video library of exercise and therapy instructions and demonstrations.
• The TriggerPoint comes highly recommended by physical and massage therapists, trainers, athletes, and coaches.
• The combination of solid interior and foam exterior provide unlimited therapeutic uses.
The TriggerPoint Grid Foam Roller is great because of its unique construction and helpful instructional videos. Whether you want to warm muscles up before a workout or use the roller to relieve muscle knots and soreness, this roller holds up.
The Gaian Essential High-Density Foam Roller is smooth and firm. It’s ideal for beginners who haven’t used rollers before. The 36 inch length makes it great for whole body and back support.
• The material is high-density foam which provides firm, smooth pressure on muscles.
• This longer length makes it great for whole body rolling, hips, and abdomen massage and pre and post workout support.
• Comes in Black, Purple, or Teal
• Use this 36 inch long, firm, smooth roller to balance your body along your spine to stretch your back muscles and improve sciatica symptoms.
• The smooth surface helps beginners ease into using foam rollers. Without a dimensional surface, the roller provides gentler massage and minimal circulation improvement for pain relief.
• Use this one for any muscle in the body from feet to back, legs, arms, and hips.
The Gaiam Foam Roller is great because it’s longer than most, and is firm but smooth. The simple design makes it a great first foam roller for hitting pressure points, improving circulation, and preparing for or recovering from exercise.
#3) Brazyn Morph Collapsible Foam Roller Trigger Point Massage - Great for Travel
The Brazyn Morph Fold Flat Foam Roller is easy to transport and use anywhere from the gym to your office. Brazyn was founded by an NFL player looking for better massage and recovery products. These inventive rollers are meticulously produced using 60 different pieces by European craftspeople. There are two versions: traditional and deep tissue.
• When flat, the dimensions are 15.5 inches long by about 6.5 inches wide, and 2 tall. When expanded, the length is 14.5 inches and the width 5.5 inches. The size is ideal for everything from your back to the arches of your feet.
• Both versions, the traditional and the deep tissue are both textured to different degrees to provide more or less pressure on trigger points.
• Comes in your choice of Midnight, Sage Green, or Orange
• Easy to expand and collapse. Pull the ropes to expand and lock. Push the discs to collapse again for storage or transport.
• The unique construction uses sustainable bamboo slats and recycled aluminum framing on the inside and high-density and high-performing foam on the outside.
• The Brazyn Morph supports up to 350 pounds.
The Brazyn Morph Collapsible Fold-Flat Foam Roller is great because it’s solidly constructed using environmentally responsible materials. It easily folds and expands for convenience and comes in two different textures for hitting trigger points and providing myofascial release.
#4) Theragun | Wave Roller | Vibrating Foam Roller for Full-Body
The Theragun Wave Roller vibrates to provide soothing or stimulating massage while you roll. Combining the wave patterns in the high-density cover and the five vibration settings, you can customize your workout.
• The Theragun is made from ethylene vinyl acetate on the inside and is covered by high-density foam on the outside.
• The unique wave texture in the outer layer provides pressure to trigger points in an effective pattern.
• The vibrator has five different settings and is connected to blue tooth to enable connection to an app for preset routines you can follow.
• The lithium battery lasts three hours and is recharged through a power adaptor. Everything fits into a convenient carrying or storage case.
• The dimensions are 13.31 inches by 8.5 inches. The broad diameter and wave pattern are great for large or small muscles or full body tension release.
• By combining vibration and gentle rolling, users can relax muscles, stimulate pressure points, improve muscle tone and range of motion.
The Theragun Wave Roller is great because of its construction, the wave pattern, and the vibration it provides. The blue tooth enabled app provides hours of therapeutic routines for the user.
#5) The Original Body Roller - High Density Foam Roller Massager for Deep Tissue Massage of The Back and Leg Muscles
The Original Body Roller is made from extra firm high-density foam with no hard inner core. The patented texture combination mimics the hands of a masseuse to relieve muscle knots and adhesions.
• The 3-D texture has three sides. Side one has ridges, side two is flat, and side three has spikey bumps. The combination imitates the fingers, thumbs, and palms of a massage therapist. This roller pinches and spreads body surfaces to provide release.
• The physical therapy grade foam is firm but yielding with no hard inner core.
• The Original Roller Massager comes in two lengths; 13 inch and 17 inch and is 5.25 inches wide. The shorter is best for the arch of your foot or smaller muscles in the arms and legs. The longer is great for whole body rolling or larger muscles and deep tissue massage.
• This roller comes in five colors: black, turquoise, blue, pink, and puple.
The Original Roller Massager is great because of its patented triple massage surface. Combining a flatter surface with two different dimensional textures imitates the massage you might get from a professional.
#6) Textured Acumobility Back Roller, Back Stretcher & Back Cracker for Back Pain
The Acumobility Back Roller Foam Roller was designed by a chiropractor to improve user’s posture and provide back pain relief. While it is great for “cracking” your back, it also works well for exercise and relieving muscle knots.
• When used to improve posture and relieve sciatica pain, the user places the wheel below their spine and rolls along it to separate or “crack” the discs of the back. You lie on top of the wheel and roll any part of the spine from the neck to the middle or lower back.
• By separating the vertebrae, the roller allows the discs to reduce and flow back into their proper place which relieves sciatica pain.
• The Acumobility Back Roller has a plastic inner structure and four rows of bumps and a center groove made from EVA or ethylene vinyl acetate. The bumps and the center groove work to straighten the spine.
• The roller is 10.92 inches in diameter and the bumpy surface is 7.41 inches wide.
• The roller holds up to 1000 lb. In addition to improving back conditions, the roller is great for all kinds of exercises for abs, chest, glutes, triceps, hips, and thighs. The website provides instructional videos.
• The bumpy surface can also be used like other rollers to massage muscles before or after workouts to warm muscles or provide recover and release.
The Acumobility Back Roller, designed by a chiropractor, is great because it not only provides massage and myofascial release therapy, it also treats back problems caused by poor posture. Rolling your back along the bumpy wheel can relieve sciatica pain.
#7) Yes4All Medium Density Foam Roller - Great for Beginners
The Yes4All Foam Roller is made from medium density, closed cell foam which makes it ideal for beginners and more gentle massage for pain relief. The various sizes and smooth surface also make it great for a wide variety of uses and applications.
• These come in four lengths, 12-inch, 18- inch, 24-inch, and 36- inch, all with a 6-inch width. These rollers are inexpensive so you can get some different lengths for all your needs.
• The Yes4All Rollers also come in nine fun colors: blue, pink, violet, teal, two-tone pastel, rainbow, clemates marble, ocean marble and unicorn marble.
• The less dense and slightly softer foam make these great for people just starting with rollers to provide myofascial release.
• The density and various sizes also make them great for relieving back pain, improving blood flow, improving range of motion and for general fitness and injury prevention.
• These are made from eco-safe materials free from formaldehyde and phthalate.
• The shorter lengths work for smaller muscles and the longer for larger muscles and whole-body roller therapy.
The Yes4All Medium Density Foam Roller is great because the softer material is gentler on your muscles so it’s great for beginners. The many sizes provide an array of choices for many different applications and the colors are fun.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which is better, smooth surface or textured surface on a roller?
For beginners, smoother surface is a good choice because the stimulation is gentler and using the roller is easier. For more advanced therapy and stimulation, however, dimensional, or textured surfaces can work trigger points more dramatically and provide more release.
How do back crackers work?
The difference between a back cracker wheel and other therapeutic rollers is that the wheels are usually wider in diameter and a bit firmer. They also have a series of large, rounded bumps in rows on either side of an open space in the middle. By lying on the wheel with your backbone in the open space or channel and rolling gently up and back, you separate your individual vertebrae and help the herniate discs to fall back into place. You also stretch your spine to improve your posture after use.
What does a vibration feature add to rollers?
When you use a roller while it’s vibrating, you add another dimension to the therapy. The vibration helps to sooth sore muscles as you roll. You can even use the vibration feature alone to gently massage muscles before or after exercise, or before or after a roller session.