You probably don’t need a study to make you want a massage, but researchers have verified that massage helps reduce inflammation after a strenuous workout, proving that it’s not just an indulgence. It’s necessary. But…as much as we’d all like to visit spas more often, weekly or even monthly massage is pretty much out of the question for a lot of people thanks to lack of time, money, or both. This is where my favorite fitness gadget comes in handy: The foam roller, otherwise known as “the poor woman’s massage.”
The study, published in this month’s Science Translational Medicine, measured muscle recovery through thigh muscle biopsies in 11 young men who rode a stationary bike to the point of exhaustion. They randomly chose one leg to massage, and took biopsies before exercise, 10 minutes after massage and two and a half hours after recovery. They analyzed the genes in the muscles and, according to Simon Melov, PhD, results showed that the biopsies taken from massaged muscles showed less inflammation and better recovery than non-massaged muscles:
“Our research showed that massage dampened the expression of inflammatory cytokines in the muscle cells and promoted biogenesis of mitochondria, which are the energy-producing units in the cells,” said Melov. He added that the pain reduction associated with massage may involve the same mechanism as those targeted by conventional anti-inflammatory drugs. “There’s general agreement that massage feels good, now we have a scientific basis for the experience.”
But massage is still expensive and time-consuming, which is where foam rollers come in. Foam rollers are exactly what they sound like: a foam cylinder (or ‘roll’) that can be used to massage muscles. They’re inexpensive, easy to use, and easy to keep at home (if your gym doesn’t already have them)—and once you have one, you can pretty much have a free massage whenever you want, as often as you want. Many trainers recommend using them to massage the major muscle groups after every workout; it not only helps reduce muscle soreness, but it also helps prevent injury by soothing muscle strain and preventing muscle tightness.
Using them is easy—with the roller on the ground, you just place the body part to be massaged over the roll, lay your weight on it, and use your arms and/or legs to roll up and down over the foam. Here’s how to get to the most important muscle groups: