October 2021

Effects of Self-Myofascial Release Using a Foam Roller on the Stiffness of the Gastrocnemius-Achilles Tendon Complex and Ankle Dorsiflexion Range of Motion

Authors: Tian-Tian Chang 1, Zhe Li 2, Yuan-Chun Zhu 1, Xue-Qiang Wang 1, 3, Zhi-Jie Zhang 4

Author information:

  1. Department of Sport Rehabilitation, Shanghai University of Sport, Shanghai, China
  2. The First Clinical Medical School, Shaanxi University of Chinese Medicine, Xi’an, China
  3. Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, Shanghai Shangti Orthopedic Hospital, Shanghai, China
  4. Rehabilitation Therapy Center, Luoyang Orthopedic Hospital of Henan Province, Luoyang, China

Journal: Frontiers in Physiology - September 2021, Volume 12, Article no. 718827 (DOI: 10.3389/fphys.2021.718827)

Increased muscle stiffness can contribute to reduced range of motion (ROM) and impaired function. Reduced ankle dorsiflexion ROM has been associated with increased injury risk in the ankle. Self-myofascial release (SMR) has been widely used in clinical and sports settings, but the effects of SMR on gastrocnemius and Achilles tendon (AT) stiffness are unclear. Therefore, we investigated the effects of self-myofascial release using a foam roller (FR) on the stiffness of the gastrocnemius–AT complex and ankle dorsiflexion ROM.

Fifty healthy, untrained, and non-sedentary participants (age=22.5±2.6years) were randomly divided into an intervention group (FR group) and a control group. The subjects in the intervention group received a single foam roller intervention (three sets of 1min), while the subjects in the control group performed a 5-min sedentary rest. Stiffness of the gastrocnemius–AT complex was evaluated using MyotonPRO and the ankle dorsiflexion ROM was assessed using the weight-bearing lunge test.

For the foam roller and control groups, the between-group analysis revealed a statistically significant difference in gastrocnemius stiffness and ankle dorsiflexion ROM after intervention (p<0.05). Within-group analysis revealed a significant increase in ROM and a significant decrease in medial and lateral gastrocnemius (LG) stiffness for the foam roller group after the intervention (p<0.05). In addition, further analysis of the preintervention data revealed a significant negative correlation between ankle dorsiflexion ROM and AT stiffness (r=−0.378 and p=0.007).

These results suggest that self-myofascial release using a foam roller on the calf is an effective method for decreasing the stiffness of the gastrocnemius and increasing ankle dorsiflexion ROM.


Keywords: stiffness, gastrocnemius, self-myofascial release, range of motion, ankle, foam roller

We conclude that a single foam roller intervention on the calf can increase the ankle dorsiflexion ROM and reduce the stiffness of the gastrocnemius. The present study suggests a negative correlation between ankle dorsiflexion ROM and AT stiffness in the healthy population.