Self-myofascial release (SMR or SMFR) with a Foam Roller

What is SMR? Self-myofascial release (SMR) is based on the principles of myofascial release (MFR), which is a manual therapy technique. The aim of MFR is to increase the pliability of the restricted fascia (tough connective tissue). In MFR the therapist provides manual pressure to the soft tissues whereas in SMR the individual uses their own bodyweight and a roller (e.g. Foam Roller) to add pressure to the soft tissues. SMR is claimed to have many advantages such as decreased pain, increased flexibility and performance, improved soft tissue health and healing.

What does SMR do for my ROM and performance? It seems that by SMR the range of motion can be acutely increased without the stretch-induced strength deficits (Halperin et al. 2014, MacDonald et al. 2013, Sullivan et al. 2013) that static stretching has on performance. Furthermore, according to Mohr et al. (2014) (n=40=) with the combination of static (passive) stretching and SMR (Hamstrings) with a foam roller significantly larger increase in passive ROM (hip flexion stretch tolerance) can be achieved when compared to static stretching only or to a control group at least in individuals with less than 90 ° of hip flexion in passive SLR. Mohr et al. (2014) hypothesised that the increase is due to increases in tissue temperature. Healey et al. (2014) compared SMR to traditional planking exercise and found out that pre-workout SMR by foam rolling does not decrease performance, yet it seemed not to increase it either.

Will SMR accelerate my recovery? According to MacDonald et al. (2014) foam rolling can also decrease delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) that is due to intensive training. Within the foam rolling group the peak DOMS was seen 24-hours after exercise as within the control group the peak was at 48-hours post-training. The DOMS was also higher for the control group at all post-training time points (24- and 48-hours)

Should I do Foam Rolling? The preliminary results indicate that foam rolling can be a useful tool in rehab/prehab and conditioning. It could be considered as part of a pre-workout mobility drills regimen in sports that require a large range of motion. However, to date there is insufficient scientific evidence to draw any definite conclusions on the effects of SMR.

To date the subjects in the SMR studies mostly consisted of healthy individuals without specific muscle dysfunctions, so it might be that the effects of the SMR are greater within individuals with muscle-fascia dysfunctions such as IT band syndrome or plantar fasciitis etc. In a recent randomized controlled double blinded study by Ajimsha et al. (2014) (MFR group, n = 33; control group, n = 32) myofascial release technique (MFR, manual) was used for gastrocnemius, soleus and plantar myofasciae to treat plantar fasciitis symptoms (3x weekly/ 4 weeks, duration of 30 min). According to the results of the study it seems that MFR is significantly more effective than sham ultrasound therapy in reducing pain, functional disability and pressure pain threshold in individuals with unilateral heel pain. When compared to the intervention by Ajimsha et al. (2014) and treatment times usually used in manually applied MFR the treatment times in SMR studies are fairly short. By practicing the foam rolling exercises for a longer period the effects of the SMR could become more prominent. For example in MFR the pressure is held from 60 seconds up to 5 minutes (Stone 2000). At least according to Sullivan et al. (2013) a trend towards greater improvements of ROM with longer duration of self-massage with a roller could be seen.

Foam rolling/Roller massager protocols used in interventions:
Mohr: SMR 3x1min rolling with 30 sec rest + 3x 1min passive stretch with 30 sec rest
Halperin: SMR 3×30 sec SM with roller massager
Sullivan: SMR 2×5/20 sec SM with roller massager
MacDonald: SMR 2x1min with 1min rest
Ajimsha: (therapist applied MFR) 30 min session 3xwk for 4 weeks

New Complimentary Exercises from PhysioTools

All PhysioTools Online users can now use the new complimentary module Thera-Band® Foam Roller by the Hygenic Corporation. Simply click on Market and follow the instructions to add it to your library.


  • Ajimsha M, Binsu D, Chithra S. Effectiveness of myofascial release in the management of plantar heel pain: A randomized controlled trial. The Foot 2014;24:66-71
  • Halperin I, Aboodarda SJ, Button C, Andersen L, Behm D. Roller massager improves range of motion of plantar flexor muscles without subsequent decreases in force parameters. IJSPT 2014; 9(1): 92-102
  • Healey K, Hatfield D, Blanpied P, Dorfman L, Riebe D. The effects of myofascial release with foam rolling on performance. JStrength Cond Res 2013;28:61-68
  • MacDonald G, Penney M, Mullaley M, Cuconato A, Drake C, Behm D, Button D. An acute bout of self-myofascial release increases range of motion without a subsequent decrease in muscle activation or force. J Strength Cond Res 2013;27(3): 812-821
  • Macdonald G, Button D, Drinkwater E, Behm D. Foam Rolling as a Recovery tool after an intense bout of physical activity. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2014;46(1):131–142
  • Mohr A, Long B, Goad C. Effect of Foam Rolling and Static Stretching on Passive Hip-Flexion Range of Motion. Journal of Sport Rehabilitation 2014;23:296-299
  • Stone J. Myofascial release. ATT 2000;5(4):34-35
  • Sullivan K, Silvey D, Button D, Behm D. Roller-massager application to the hamstrings increases sit-and-reach range of motion within five to ten seconds without performance impairments.IJSPT 2013;8(3): 228-236