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An In-depth Scientific Look into Recovery. Foam rolling and Massage.

Here at total body health Gisborne, our chiropractors and health professionals are passionate about helping you getting the most out of your body. When considering the never ending endeavour for physical improvement, for us to successfully increase our ability and capability, we first have to challenge ourselves physiologically, often in the form of exercise, the amount of benefit we gain from challenging ourselves is reliant on our recovery. There is no point exercising over and over again if you are not recovering fully in-between sessions, this will actually be detrimental to your body. Although well meaning, there is lots of misinformation regarding recovery out there, in order to help you get the right information with your recovery, we thought we would lay down the science for a couple of our favourite recovery tools.

Foam rolling

Foam rolling has had a surge of popularity over the last decade, but does it really work? A meta analysis performed in 2019 has saved us a lot of hard work, they sifted through hundreds of papers and after a process of elimination to get only the best and most well produced information, they ended up with 21 different studies on foam rolling. Here are the hard scientific facts they concluded on foam rolling…

Foam rolling before exercise (using a standard foam roller as a warm up)

  • Subjects gained an overall performance increase of 2.7%

  • This overall gain included a massive 5% increase in flexibility and a small increase in sprint performance (0.7%) and strength performance (1.8%).

  • Foam rolling pre exercise also found a very small decrease in jumping performance (-1.9%). This makes sense if you think about jumping as stretching out a spring (your muscles) with elastic tension and then recoiling that spring. If foam rolling lengthens your muscles by 5% (increased flexibility), that now longer spring is going to store less tension or elastic potential with the same loading (stretching or jump priming) position.

So overall foam rolling before exercise may not be appropriate for some specific sports, ie. I wouldn’t recommend it for high jumpers. However for most sports and athletic endeavours, I believe the overall increase in flexibility ( reduced risk of tear injuries ) and small gains in strength and explosion is well worth the incorporation.

Post-rolling or after exercise

  • We all know that after exercise we immediately have a decrease in our strength ability due to our muscles being fatigued. It was found the post-rolling decreased this deficit in strength by 5.6%.

This paper concluded that this was negligible, which I tend to agree with for two reasons. One, the reduction in strength post workout is small anyway and it only reduced this already small reduction by 5.6%. Two, I don’t see much need for being stronger when you have finished your workout.

I can see a potential use for this small increase in post exercise strength mid sport, say at half time during a footy match when your rest is quite sizeable and you are expected to go out and compete again.

  • Foam rolling post exercise also found a 6% reduction in perceived muscle soreness. That’s a plus, who wants to be sore?

  • Also, again a slight reduction in jumping ability.

To conclude, foam rolling may be a more useful tool pre exercise rather than post, but can provide some form of benefit at all times.


Old but gold. Massage is a very traditional tool for recovery, but what does the science say?

A meta-analysis performed by Duput et al. in 2018 analysed the use of active recovery, stretching, massage, massage and stretching combined, compression, electrostimulation, immersion of water, constrast water therapy, cryotherapy and hyperbaric chamber and their effects on inflammatory markers, muscle damage, perceived fatigue and DOMS ( delayed onset muscle soreness). Interestingly, after analysing the results the study stated that “ Massage was found to be the most powerful procedure that induced significant benefits in DOMS and perceived fatigue, regardless of the subjects (athletes, sedentary subjects)”. The study even found significant effects of massage up to 96 hours post exercise.

While most of the above listed therapies produced some form of positive results, the data pointed to massage as the clear obvious choice when it comes to post exercise recovery, out performing most other recovery methods by at least two fold.

In summary, to optimise performance, reduce injury risk and speed up recovery, our chiropractors suggest foam rolling before exercise (unless for jumping) and massage post exercise. Good luck and enjoy.

From your total body health Gisborne team.


Dupuy O, Douzi W, Theurot D, Bosquet L, Dugué B. An Evidence-Based Approach for Choosing Post-exercise Recovery Techniques to Reduce Markers of Muscle Damage, Soreness, Fatigue, and Inflammation: A Systematic Review With Meta-Analysis. Front Physiol. 2018 Apr 26;9:403. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2018.00403. PMID: 29755363; PMCID: PMC5932411.

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