Specific and cross-over effects
of foam rolling on ankle dorsiflexion range of motion

Kelly
S. Beardsley C. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. 2011, 11(4);
544-551.

Take Home Message: Foam
rolling may lead to small improvements in dorsiflexion range of motion in the
contralateral limb.

Flexibility
training is a typical recommendation for healthcare professionals and strength
coaches. Static stretching has a cross-over effect to the contralateral limb
but it is unclear if foam rolling elicits the same effect. Therefore, the
authors conducted a randomized trial to examine mechanical effects and
neurological cross-over effects of foam rolling on dorsiflexion among 26
recreationally active college students (16 male and 10 female). Participants
were randomly assigned to either a foam rolling group (13 participants) or
control group (13 participants). All participants performed 10 double-leg heel
raises as a warm up before testing. The authors measured baseline ankle
dorsiflexion range of motion (ROM) using the weight bearing lung test. The foam
rolling group then rolled the calf musculature of the dominant leg for 3 bouts
of 30 seconds (10 seconds rest between bouts). Participants applied as much force
as could be tolerated to the roller. Participants were directed to focus on the
3 aspects of the calf (lateral, middle, and medial). The control group simply
rested for 2 minutes. Next, the authors recorded ankle dorsiflexion changes at
5-minute intervals over a 20-minute period. Overall, the authors found no
difference between groups. However, only members of the foam rolling group had
increased dorsiflexion compared with baseline. The actual change in ankle ROM
in the dominant leg was small (1.12cm / 8.79%) and even smaller in the non-dominant
leg (0.72cm / 5.55%).

Cross-over
effects are an important aspect of understanding our neuromuscular connections.
The specific variables that influence these effects remain unclear. Although the
authors identified foam rolling as a mechanical modality that has neurophysiological
implications, the non-dominant leg received applied pressure by being crossed
over the dominant leg during the foam rolling process. It would be interesting
to see a foam rolling technique that can effectively treat a single leg without
impacting the contralateral limb. The repeated testing could also have altered
ROM due to stretch tolerance. Elite athletes may not benefit from such a small
cross-over effect. However, the implications may be more suitable for the
general population, injured athletes, or those suffering from neurological
disease. It would be interesting to see if the cross-over effects of foam
rolling if people perform it daily over a longer time. In conclusion, clinicians
should reiterate to their clients that a single bout of foam rolling can only produce
minimal changes in ROM.    
Questions for
Discussion: If foam rolling is a key variable in flexibility training, what are
the “optimal” recommendations for time, duration, and pressure on the roller? What
are the potential cross-over implications for immobilized joints?

Written by: Richard Shaw
Reviewed by: Jeffrey Driban

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Kelly S, & Beardsley C (2016). SPECIFIC AND CROSS-OVER EFFECTS OF FOAM ROLLING ON ANKLE DORSIFLEXION RANGE OF MOTION. International journal of sports physical therapy, 11 (4), 544-51 PMID: 27525179