Manual soft-tissue therapy, otherwise known as foam rolling, has been gaining in popularity as a way to increase flexibility and speed recovery from muscle soreness. But does it work and is it worth your while? The short answer is ... maybe.
Here's a longer answer:
Studies show it can increase flexibility for up to 10 minutes after the foam rolling is completed. And if performed regularly, it might be able to increase flexibility long term. As far as aiding in recovery from muscle soreness, testing has shown it has had some success in reducing "perceived" discomfort, as well as increasing pain thresholds so athletes can work out harder and get back to the gym, field, golf course, etc., faster.
These conclusions come from Chris Beardsley of Strength & Conditioning Research after compiling data from a number of studies from 2002 to 2014 on the technique known as myofascial release. Simply put, muscles are surrounded and adjoined by a soft tissue called fascia. When you feel tight or sore, fascia might be the culprit and localized massaging is believed to help loosen things up, as well as increase blood flow and its healing agents to the area. Some athletes do it before their activity in hopes they will move freer and perform better (although no study has definitively proven it acutely affects athletic performance). Other athletes do it at the conclusion of their activity as a way of reducing pain and soreness.
The reason I say "maybe" as to whether you should foam roll is because you should consult with a professional first. Getting evaluated on your physical limitations is key. With that caveat out of the way, if you're looking to increase your range of motion when you swing a golf club, or not feel as sore after you tee it up or work out, then you might want to incorporate a short foam-rolling program into your fitness routines and see if it helps.
To that end, we asked PGA Tour rookie Tony Finau (@tonyfinaugolf) to demonstrate a great foam-rolling program for golfers. Finau is a "Team Captain" for the sports-training-equipment company SKLZ (@sklz) and is launching a campaign to help golfers prepare better for their rounds.
To see him walk you through a foam-rolling routine, click on the video below.
Ron Kaspriske is the fitness editor of Golf Digest.