Acute Effects of a Single-Session of Full-Body Foam Rolling on Heart Rate Variability

  • Thomas Kopec, PhD, LAT, ATC Zimmer Biomet Institute
Keywords: foam rolling, heart rate variability, parasympathetic withdrawal


Background: Self-myofascial release has been demonstrated to increase relaxation and improve blood flow, yet it is unknown if it can elicit an acute effect on heart rate variability (HRV).

Purpose: This study aimed to determine if a single-bout of foam rolling could increase parasympathetic activity as measured by HRV.

Methods: Twenty (20) participants volunteered and their baseline HRV was assessed using a finger sensor while lying supine, and then a second measure was recorded with them sitting upright with feet on the ground. This study utilized a practical HRV collection method designed for use in the field settings, and the data is recorded in arbitrary units (A.U.). Par-ticipants then oscillated on a closed-cell cylindrical foam roller using their body weight on the triceps surae, hamstrings, quadriceps, lumbar spine, and pectoral muscles each for 60 sec. Participants first massaged the right limb and then repeated on the matching muscle group on the left before continuing to the next region. Follow-up HRV measurements were recorded using the same procedures.

Results: Paired samples t tests assessing pre- and post-foam–rolling HRV measures in supine and seated positions revealed no difference between supine measures (p = .05, d = 0.21), nor the seated measures (p = .27, d = 0.17) among all participants. When sexes were analyzed separately, males showed a significant decrease in HRV in supine positions (p = .03, d = 0.33), but females did not (p = .55, d = 0.09).

Conclusions: The single bout of foam rolling on large muscle groups did not increase parasympathetic activity as hypothesized. Males and females respond-ed differently in supine positions, but no difference was present in seated positions across sexes. The task of self-massage may have prevented the anticipated response f rom the massage. Further research should investigate if passive massage is more effective on HRV response.

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How to Cite
Kopec, PhD, LAT, ATC, T. (2022). Acute Effects of a Single-Session of Full-Body Foam Rolling on Heart Rate Variability. International Journal of Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork Research Education &Amp; Practice, 15(4), 18–25.