Ask Dr. Dumb: All About Foam Rolling


Hello, friends, and welcome to another chat with our go-to expert on everything that matters, Dr. Dumb. Today’s topic is foam rolling.

We’ve touched on this before, in a February 2016 article titled Ask Dr. Dumb: How Can I Avoid Running Injuries?, but feel that the subject deserves its own “deep dive.” Like, so deep it hurts.

Let’s roll.

Dumb Runner: Hello again, Dr. Dumb. Let’s start with the basics. What is a foam roller?
Dr. Dumb: A foam roller is a firm, cylindrical object, sometimes pointy.

That sounds like a pencil to me.
See, this is why I’m the expert.

So what are foam rollers used for?
Self-myofascial release.

That sounds serious and science-y!
Foam rolling is very serious and science-y. And it definitely delivers Benefits® and Speeds Recovery™, which is why, as writers and bloggers with Amazon Affiliate accounts like to say, “These days, it seems like everybody’s doing it.”

Speaking of science, what evidence is there to show that foam rolling is helpful?
Do you want “evidence”? Or do you want to get rid of those knots in your muscles?

Ooh, knots are bad. I don’t want knots.
Nobody does! They’re knots! Let’s move on.

How do I use my foam roller? Do I wave it over my muscles, or hit them with it, or what?
You roll on it.

Ah. Then what?
Then you grimace, because it hurts like hell. Then you roll some more.

That’s it?
No, then comes the most important part of all—letting everyone know that you just foam-rolled and how much it hurt. Social media is the best way to do this, but you can also just tell people in person.

Sounds a lot like the process for taking an ice bath.
It’s exactly like the process for taking an ice bath.

As an avid runner, how many foam rollers do I need?
Eight, at least. One for your left leg, one for your right leg—

Wait. I need leg-specific foam rollers?
Obviously. For the same reasons you need “left” and “right” socks. Left-side foam rollers are designed with the left leg’s unique contours in mind; right-side foam rollers, with the right leg.

Makes sense. What are the other six foam rollers I need?
One smooth model; one bumpy model; one that collapses, for travel; one that vibrates; one hard model; and one very hard model.

Remember years ago when some runners were wearing Breathe Right nasal strips, products that purported to enhance performance based on some reasonable-sounding premise but that everyone eventually realized was ridiculous? And now we all look back on that fad and shake our heads?
Yes. Why do you ask?

No reason.
OK. Weird you would bring that up.

What’s the deal with this photo?

I can’t speak to this fellow’s apparel choices, but I’m happy to see that he is demonstrating proper use of left-side and right-side foam rollers.

Final question, doctor: Does it matter when I foam-roll? Is there more benefit to doing it before my run, or after?
I can say with confidence that foam rolling is exactly as beneficial before your run as it is afterward.

Doctor, as always, thank you for your time.
You’re welcome.