Posted by Andrew Coleman on

If you are someone who is sore from training, stiff from a bad sleep, or tight from stress, you’ve probably already tried foam rolling and/or stretching. You may have been taught by a friend, a book, or read up about it online. If you chose the latter method, then I’m guessing that you sifted through a multitude of blogs, podcasts, and articles, many of which described the benefits of stretching over foam rolling, or vice versa. So, the question is, which is better for you?

Before I answer that, I would like to point out that in this new age of instant gratification, quickly formed opinions, and rapid fire information, the actual truth may shock you. So, here’s the real answer: Drum Roll…………….. It’s complicated, and it depends on a few factors.

The truth is that things like foam rolling, or the use of massage tools such as a spiked ball, can and should be done in conjunction with a short stretching routine, most of the time.

For pain relief:

A quick 5-minute routine with a foam roller or spiked ball can work wonders for pain relief, and following your foam roll with a few, short, thirty-second stretches can help prolong that bliss for a significant amount of time. Keep in mind, that a 10-15 minute routine will do more good than a 5-minute treatment of similar standard. When it comes to massage for pain relief (foam rolling falls under this umbrella) more is good, but too much is bad. When it comes to spiked balls, a foam roller, or someone actually performing a massage, too much would usually consist of deep tissue pressure, on one area, for a period of 20 minutes or longer.

Chronic Pain:

The truth is, if you find yourself foam rolling a particular area for a prolonged period of time (weeks or months) the chances are, that although you are relieving the pain, you are merely addressing the symptoms, which can be an incredibly inefficient use of your time. If the same pain or stiffness is reoccurring regularly, what you are most likely feeling is a symptom that is referring from a different area of your body.

Here is a simple example: recently I found myself foam rolling my hamstrings for the tenth time in about two weeks, and it occurred to me that I had found myself in the aforementioned predicament. So, I decided to do a back stretching routine and work on improving my posture instead. This relieved the tightness in my hamstrings because it was a symptom of a stiff back.


Symptom: Tight Hamstrings, pain in back of legs.

Cause: Tight Back.

In this case, if I merely continued to address the hamstring issue, and not my back, I would be left foam rolling my hamstrings for weeks on end. Only experiencing temporary relief, with the pain and stiffness promptly returning and leaving me in a perpetual state of foam rolling ground hog day.

Getting an expert opinion:

I have been training, stretching, and foam rolling for a number of years, so I know my body. I can usually figure out the cause of a problem through a quick self-assessment. However, some problems can be well hidden, and the cause of your symptoms can often be deceptive. So if you’re unsure, get an expert opinion. 

If your problem is chronic, and you aren’t able to self assess, I would definitely recommend seeing a good sports doctor or Myotherapist to diagnose the root of the problem.

In the meantime, if the pain is arising sporadically and is not ongoing or chronic, do a simple 5-15 minute foam roll and stretching routine, it will work wonders.

You may be thinking, well all this is great, but how exactlydo I stretch or foam roll a particular part of my body? In my next blog I will offer some specific routines for commonly tight areas.

In the meantime treat yourself to a 5-minute care routine that combines both stretching and foam rolling With any luck, the problem is local and not referred, so the treatment will not only serve as pain relief, but as a permanent cure.

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