Background: Foam rolling (FR) has been demonstrated to acutely enhance joint range of motion (ROM). However, data syntheses pooling the effect sizes across studies are scarce. It is, furthermore, unknown which moderators affect the treatment outcome.
Objective: To quantify the immediate effects of FR on ROM in healthy adults.
Methods: A multilevel meta-analysis with a robust random effects meta-regression model was used to pool the standardized mean differences (SMD) between FR and no-exercise (NEX) as well as FR and stretching. The influence of the possible effect modifiers treatment duration, speed, targeted muscle, testing mode (active/passive ROM), sex, BMI, and study design was examined in a moderator analysis.
Results: Twenty-six trials with high methodological quality (PEDro scale) were identified. Compared to NEX, FR had a large positive effect on ROM (SMD: 0.74, 95% CI 0.42-1.01, p = 0.0002), but was not superior to stretching (SMD: - 0.02, 95% CI - 0.73 to 0.69, p = 0.95). Although the few individual study findings suggest that FR with vibration may be more effective than NEX or FR without vibration, the pooled results did not reveal significant differences (SMD: 6.75, 95% CI - 76.4 to 89.9, p = 0.49 and SMD: 0.66, 95% CI - 1.5 to 2.8, p = 0.32). According to the moderator analysis, most potential effect modifiers (e.g., BMI, speed or duration) do not have a significant impact (p > 0.05) but FR may be less effective in men (p < 0.05).
Conclusion: FR represents an effective method to induce acute improvements in joint ROM. The impact of moderators should be further elucidated in future research.