Muscle soreness is an unwelcome visitor for a lot of us. Whether your muscles feel tight from days hunched over a computer at work or hours spent at the gym, your body probably needs some rehab.
Scheduling in a massage isn’t realistic for a lot of us, so there are a lot of simple practices you can do at home to keep your muscles and connective tissues feeling soft and flexible. Using the best foam roller can be a great way to address stiffness and muscle pain, especially if you add it to an existing stretching or yoga routine.
There are literally hundreds of foam rollers on the market, so we’ve waded through it all and rounded up the five best foam rollers that we found. We were big fans of the Arrow, made by D-Fit by Deawna, which is made out of durable, scratch-resistant, high-density foam and has nodules to work muscles and tissues more deeply.
Overall, the average person needs a foam roller that can take varying levels of pressure. While there are rollers for specific muscle groups or for those who need extra-firm or extra-soft foam, this one provides a good middle ground.
The nodules are extra helpful after strenuous activity or just if you’re under a lot of stress.
Top 5 Foam Rollers
|The Arrow||Nodules, PVC Core, Non-Slip, Ideal Size||5/5||Check Price|
|NextRoller||3 Vibration Frequencies||4.5/5||Check Price|
|PowerPro 2-In-1 Foam Roller||Soft Inner, High Density Outer Rollers||4.5/5||Check Price|
|Nordic Lifting Foam Roller||100% EVA, Finger & Palm Pressure Areas||4/5||Check Price|
|LuxFit Speckled Foam Roller||Foam, Multiple Sizes Available||4/5||Check Price|
Best Overall Foam Roller
When you consider the durability, price point, and versatility of The Arrow, it won our search for the best overall foam roller.
The Arrow has two different surfaces on one roller: raised nodules and a flatter, arrow-shaped surface in the middle. This makes it easy to vary the types of massage you can do with it.
It’s good for beginners because a whole library of how-to videos come with it. It only weighs 2.1 pounds and it’s 13 inches long, so it’s about the perfect size for the average person.
The Arrow is reputed for its durability, even if multiple people are using it. So, you don’t have to worry about sharing it with your girlfriend, your kids, your training partner, your running buddy….
It might not be the fanciest, bells-and-whistles model preferred by elite athletes, but if you’re looking for a durable foam roller that meets most of your needs most of the time, The Arrow is a safe bet.
Pros and Cons
- Useful sizes for lots of different parts of the body
- Firm, but not too firm
- It’s durable
- Nodules massage better than a flat foam roller
- Free videos help you learn how to use it
- It doesn’t vibrate
- Some users reported the foam separating from the core over time
- May be too firm for those requiring a very soft touch
2. Best Vibrating Foam Roller
If you’re a professional athlete who doesn’t mind shelling out for top-notch gear, then you might want to look into vibrating foam rollers like the Next Roller. It has all the same benefits of a regular foam roller, but they basically electrified it.
The Next Roller is the Cadillac version of the foam roller. It’s designed to do anything a professional masseuse can do.
The Next Roller is aimed for those serious about their personal training who want the kind of recovery tools that pro athletes use at a comparably reasonable price point.
It’s probably more than the average person needs for their weekly workouts. Next Roller makes a lot of strong product claims about pro athletes using their tools but doesn’t necessarily mention specific names. Still, it’s made for those who train intensively and want to avoid injury.
Yes, it’s a lot pricier than the other models. For really serious athletes, though, it might be worth a look.
Pros and Cons
- Great for serious athletes, military personnel
- It recharges quickly
- You can very the intensity of the vibration
- Their company makes some pretty huge product claims
- Expensive compared to other models we found
3. Most Versatile Foam Roller
PowerPro 2-In-1 Foam Roller
We were big fans of this one because it comes apart. The PowerPro 2-In-1 has a hard, external roller with nodules and a soft, flat foam roller that fits inside it.
This could be a good option for beginning foam rollers who want one product that will stick with them as they learn. You can start out using the soft roller to learn the moves and then graduate to the external roller once you have the hang of it.
It can also work for people who use a foam roller in lots of different ways. You can use the soft roller for yoga and Pilates or on very sensitive muscle groups, and then use the firm outer roller for muscle areas that need a bit more work.
Keep in mind that most foam rollers are about 18 inches, and the PowerPro 2-in-1 is only 13 inches. It makes it more portable, but it might be too short for some.
Pros and Cons
- You basically get two rollers
- It comes with how-to videos
- Inner roller is good for beginners
- Inner roller is non-slip, but still has a smooth surface
- It’s shorter than the average foam roller
- The outer roller might be too hard for some users
- The inner roller might be too soft for some users
4. Best Deep-Muscle Foam Roller
If your sore muscles laugh in the face of flat foam rollers, then you might want to check this out. The Nordic Lifting Foam Roller is made from extremely dense foam and has extra-thick nodules, so it’s good at really working into very stiff muscles.
One good thing about the Nordic Lifting Foam Roller is that its 100% EVA, which is actually the same stuff that lines professional athletic shoes. A lot of other rollers have a weaker core that the foam is wrapped around, and that core can break sometimes after extensive use.
If you are very sensitive to touch and a light massage works best for you, then the Nordic is probably not your best choice. People with chronic pain, recovering from injuries, or who just need a really stiff massage tend to like the intensity of the Nordic Lifting Foam Roller.
Pros and Cons
- Should help people with severe chronic pain
- It’s good for those who need extra firmness
- Really durable for the price point
- Probably better for arms and legs than for back work
- It’s extra-firm, so it might not work for people sensitive to massage
5. Best Intro-Level Foam Roller
LuxFit Speckled Foam Roller
Sometimes you don’t need the fanciest thing. When I took my first yoga class, I just picked up a simple yoga mat that wasn’t the latest and greatest, but it was what I needed to get started with yoga.
The LuxFit Speckled Foam Roller is a good base model if you are just trying out foam rolling or need it for a class or training session. You can choose from four different lengths, so it’s a good choice for people who want an extra-short or extra-long foam roller.
The LuxFit comes with links to a few instructional videos. Though nothing as in-depth as some of the other models we reviewed, it’s something to get you started with foam rolling.
It doesn’t have nodules, but the foam itself is pretty dense. If you’re just using a rolled-up towel to help you stretch, the LuxFit might be a good upgrade for you.
Pros and Cons
- It’s lightweight
- It has a slight give, but stays firm under pressure
- 3-year limited warranty – more than most models
- Best quality at the low end of the price point
- It doesn’t have nodules
- Make sure you order the length you want – some sizes are too short
- The foam can be too tough for those with sensitive muscles
Why Use A Foam Roller?
Most of us would love to get a regular professional massage, but it’s just not in the budget. Since over 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain, finding practical solutions to relieve pain at home is a must.
Foam rollers address muscle pain in multiple parts of the body with a targeted massage. Foam rollers could help you if you suffer from any of these conditions:
- Neck Tension
- Back Pain
- Pinched Nerves
- Spinal Misalignment
- Shin Splints
A foam roller can be used in multiple ways, so some experimentation is usually helpful to determine which technique brings relief to your condition.
Many of these symptoms can indicate severe conditions, so you should always consult with your doctor before trying to solve complicated health issues on your own.
If you are looking for an inexpensive way to relieve minor aches and pains and prep your body for exercise, a foam roller could be worth a try.
What Is Myofascial Release?
A foam roller works by stimulating myofascial release. The fascia is the connective tissue that covers your muscles.
Sometimes one muscles is overstrained or slightly injured, creating a “trigger point,” also called a “pressure point” or a “pain point.” Since the muscles and fascia are all connected, many therapists, trainers, coaches, and medical practitioners believe that one trigger point can cause pain or soreness diffused across the body. This is called Myofascial pain.
Myofascial pain can occur in any level of severity. Wondering if you’re experiencing myofascial pain? Here are a couple of common indicators:
- You have a muscle area that’s extremely sensitive (called an active trigger point)
- You have a weak or sensitive muscle area (called a latent trigger point)
- Stress makes the pain worse
- You frequently get tension headaches
- You’re not very flexible
While myofascial pain can be related to one of the medical conditions mentioned above, it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s something wrong with your body.
Your fascia and muscles can become tight, stiff, or hard to warm up if you don’t use them very often. On the other side of the coin, very active people, like athletes, who use their muscles a lot can create small trigger points that can cause general stiffness if not addressed.
Now that we know what myofascial pain is, understanding myofascial release isn’t too complicated. It’s just the process of applying steady pressure to your muscles and fascia to relax trigger points and relax your muscles.
Many of us have heard of deep tissue massage before – that’s basically what myofascial release is. If you get a regular massage, the masseuse or therapist will probably focus more on kneading and stroking muscles to relax them.
Myofascial release is about stretching the fascia, or connective tissues, to strengthen them.
How Do I Use a Foam Roller?
Physical therapists and masseuses use myofascial release to help stretch connective tissues. You can do the same thing at home with a foam roller.
Think of it as self-massage. It takes some practice to master the technique, but the basic idea is to roll the foam roller over areas of your body that experience stiffness or minor main.
It’s important to remember never use a foam roller on joins or bone. It’s designed for muscles and fascia and you could damage your joints by using it incorrectly.
Allow plenty of recovery time after using a foam roller, too. 24-48 hours of rest on a particular muscle group is usually enough.
So if you worked your back on Monday, try yoga on Tuesday and thighs on Wednesday before returning to your back muscles and fascia on Thursday.
Some areas of your body that you can use the foam roller on:
- Upper Back
- Lower Back
- IT Band
You don’t need much to use a foam roller for myofascial release. You need a relatively open area – about the same amount of space you would use to do yoga. For example, my living room offers enough space for using a foam roller.
Place the foam roller on a flat, level space. The area of your body that you want to work (like your glutes or your lower back) should be positioned above the foam roller. Use your hands and feet for balance.
Push your body against the roller and roll it gently over the muscle group you are working with. You should feel a “stretching” that can be uncomfortable but should not be excruciatingly painful.
If you feel stabbing pains when using a foam roller, you should talk to your doctor or trainer. Feeling the same level of pain that you feel during a deep stretch is normal and means your tissues are recovering some of their elasticity.
When you get a massage, the masseuse or therapist’s hands exert pressure on your muscles and fascia. With a foam roller, you push your bodyweight against the foam roller.
You can gradually increase the amount of pressure you exert on the foam roller until you find the ideal balance between comfort and myofascial release.
What are the Best Foam Roller Techniques?
There are dozens of ways to use a foam roller, and it depends on what part of your body needs therapy.
Whenever you use a foam roller, you want to linger on the sore spots. Just like a massage works the tight parts of a muscle, you want to stretch your connective tissues where they are the most resistant.
Here are some of the most common ways to use a foam roller:
Use It on Your Upper Back
Lay with the foam roller just underneath your shoulder blades. Keep your feet planted firmly on the floor and use them to move the roller up your body towards your head, then back down. You can cross your arms over your chest or keep them behind your head – whichever is more comfortable for you.
Use It on Your Thighs
Runners like this one. Lie on your back and place the foam roller underneath your thighs. Then, open and close your legs in a scissor motion. Maintain steady pressure on your legs and try to keep the rest of your body relaxed.
Use It with Yoga Poses
Some people receive a better stretch from their yoga routine when they combine it with a foam roller. Generally, you can incorporate the foam roller by pressing down firmly on it instead of on the ground. Or, you can roll specific parts of your body, like your forearms, over the foam roller during yoga.
Use It on Your Feet
Ever just wished for a foot massage at the end of the day? A foam roller can be the next best thing. The foam roller goes under your foot’s arch and you push down gently with your foot while rolling it back and forth. This should gradually relax your foot’s tired muscles and tissues.
While there is infinite variation of foam roller moves, they all basically feature exerted pressure over specific muscle groups.
Most foam rollers come with ebooks and/or instructional videos that show you how to use it correctly.
You can even take foam roller classes with a personal trainer to learn some of the best moves and how to execute them correctly.
Why Should Athletes Use Foam Rollers?
Many athletes use foam rollers to reduce stiffness and tension, so they can shorten warm-up times before athletic performance. Athletes also tend to develop trigger points while working out or during athletic performance.
If you’re used to training or receiving physical therapy for athletic-related injuries, a foam roller might be a good tool for you. You’ve probably developed a higher sensitivity to problem spots in your body than the average person and can more quickly figure out how to specifically target trigger points.
Benefits of foam rollers for athletes:
- Maintains Muscle Elasticity
- Can Address Pain Referral
- Correct Unnatural Movement Patterns
- Makes Stretching More Effective
- Speeds Up Recovery Times
- Increase Flexibility
Foam rollers aren’t specific to one sport. All foam rollers can be used to address problems athletes share, like the need to maintain flexibility and recover from training quickly.
The best foam roller for a dancer may not meet the needs of a body builder or a tennis player though, which is why variations exist. It’s a good idea to match your sport’s needs – like wrist flexibility for baseball pitchers and tennis players– to the foam roller with matching special features.
Cautions When Using Foam Rollers
Myofascial release is typically grouped with alternative medicine therapies, which means that the medical community has not officially sanctioned its use as a treatment for diagnosed conditions.
Some in the medical establishment, like the American Cancer Society and the United Kingdom Advising Standards Authority are concerned that some people will use massage therapies like foam rollers instead of conventional medical treatment.
Using a foam roller isn’t risky for the average person. You should be cautious about any massage therapy, including foam rollers, if you have any of these medical issues:
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Low Blood Sugar
- Deep Vein Thrombosis
- Nerve Damage
- If You’re Taking Blood Thinners
Some of these conditions can cause excessive bruising or even broken bones during a massage. Of course, if you already have a serious injury like a broken bone or a serious burn, you should hold off on your foam roller until you heal.
With all of the foam roller options on the market, its not surprising that beginners can feel overwhelmed. Now that you know a bit about what a foam roller is supposed to do for you, you can choose one with confidence.
If you’re concerned about easing muscle soreness or increasing flexibility, myofascial release might be worth a shot. Along with the proper medical treatment, a foam roller can help people with chronic tension, athletes, yoga enthusiasts, crossfitters, and people with chronic pain.
When researching foam rollers for you, versatility and quality were the two key attributes we looked for. A good multipurpose foam roller like The Arrow is a great place to start.