Is a Vibrating Foam Roller Better? A Physical Therapist Weighs In

Having a foam roller is like having a massage therapist at your fingertips — and way cheaper! You can get a foam roller for about $20, and anyone who exercises — whether it's running, cycling, dancing, or weightlifting — can benefit.

Aside from the basic foam roller, vibrating foam rollers are also available. They're much pricer, though, so we asked physical therapist Erin Adams, DPT and certified manual trigger point therapist from Fit2Perform, if vibrating foam rollers are more effective than regular foam rollers.

Why Is Vibration Good For Recovery?

"The idea behind adding vibration to your foam roller stems from the belief that vibration increases circulation (or blood flow) and decreases pain," Erin explained. There have been studies on the use of Whole-Body Vibration (WBV) and its effect on blood flow to the skin, which are promising. There are not, however, highly controlled studies with hundreds of participants that specifically investigate the results of a vibrating foam roller.

"What we do know is that blood flow is good! It decreases pain, repairs muscles and restores vital nutrients to the area in need." Erin added that we also know that vibration can decrease pain. "The vibrating foam roller works to block pain based upon a 'gate control theory.' This theory suggests that by providing a stimulus to the area of pain, especially at a high frequency, it will block the pain by 'flooding the gate' and providing so much stimulus that the brain can not interpret the painful stimuli also trying to get through," Erin explained.

Unfortunately this is a temporary fix. Erin said that if you have a true injury, the pain will remain until the injury has healed. However "if you are simply sore from a workout or just have tight muscles, the vibrating foam roller could assist in a more tolerated foam rolling session and a quicker recovery."

What Are the Benefits of Using a Vibrating Foam Roller?

Erin shared that although there's no proof that using a vibrating foam roller will help penetrate deeper into the muscles than a regular foam roller, it could be more effective in other ways. As mentioned above, the vibration can make the foam rolling less painful. This can help a person tolerate more pressure from the roller and endure a longer foam rolling session, which can aid in faster recovery.

"I also know from experience that if you're relaxed over the roller and your muscles aren't engaged that you can sink deeper into the muscle. This is where the vibration is helpful," Erin said.

How Do You Use a Vibrating Foam Roller?

You would use a vibrating foam roller the same way you would use a regular foam roller. Erin said you can use it both before and after a workout because it's beneficial for activity preparation to temporarily improve flexibility and tissue mobility, as well as to speed up post-activity recovery and muscle repair.

Does Using a Vibrating Foam Roller Hurt?

The vibration should not make something more painful. If it does, there's a possibility that you have an actual injury and not just muscle soreness or tightness. Erin said, "normal muscle soreness from working out or travel feels tender, stiff, or tight and improves from rolling and vibration. Injuries will feel painful, sharp, will linger, and will not always respond in a positive way to deep tissue work." She said if you think you have an injury, seek medical examination prior to intense use of a vibrating foam roller.

Is a Vibrating Foam Roller More Effective Than a Regular Foam Roller?

"Because the vibration only provides temporary pain relief in the muscle, it might feel like it's more effective than a regular roller," Erin said. If the discomfort from using a regular foam roller prevents you from using it long enough to properly massage your muscles, but you are able to use a vibrating foam roller since the vibration decreases pain, then, yes, it's more effective. But if you're able to tolerate the normal, intense tenderness you'll experience from using a regular foam roller), then there's no need to splurge on one that vibrates.

Whichever foam roller you choose, Erin suggested foam rolling for the same length of time. You may think using a vibrating foam roller will allow you to shorten your foam rolling session, but remember that "the pain relief is only temporary and the real relief comes from the actual tissue massage and deep pressure," Erin said.