From Science Daily
A gym isn't a gym until you've almost broken your neck on the dozens of colourful foam rollers lying around. The idea is that you lie or sit on the things and then roll parts of your body over them to massage your muscles. Sports scientists at Nippon Sport Science University say that self-massage using a foam roller helps make your blood vessels suppler.
The scientific name for a self-massage using a foam roller is self-myofascial release. Because self-myofascial release, like stretch exercises, is intended to make muscles more supple, and because stretch exercises help make blood vessels more supple too, the researchers were curious as to whether foam roller session would also have a positive effect on blood vessels.
The Japanese researchers did an experiment with 10 students aged 19. They measured the subjects' pulse wave velocity [in other words the stiffness of their blood vessels] and the concentration of nitrate and nitrite in their blood. Nitrate and nitrite are precursors of nitrogen monoxide [NO], a signalling substance that makes the blood vessels suppler and keeps them young.
After the first measurement the subjects proceeded to treat themselves using a foam roller measuring 15 x 91 cm for a maximum of 15 minutes. They massaged their adductors, hamstrings, quadriceps, their ilio-tibial band and their upper back, including the trapezius muscle [SMR]. At the end of the session the researchers repeated their measurements. The researchers repeated the procedure on another occasion, but the subjects did not do the foam roller rigmarole [Control].
The figure above shows that the foam roller session made the blood vessels less stiff, and the concentration of NO precursors in the blood increased.
"The present findings suggest that one bout of self-myofascial release confers many favorable cardiovascular benefits", the researchers write. "Moreover, because one bout of self-myofascial release reduces PWV and increases plasma NO concentration, repeated long-term self-myofascial release might decrease baseline arterial stiffness. Therefore, self-myofascial release could be included in exercise programs to promote health."
J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Apr 9. [Epub ahead of print].