A woman being massaged with the use of massage sticks.

If you’ve ever given yourself a massage before, it’s likely you’ve used tools such as massage sticks, electric massagers, or foam rollers to enhance the overall experience. By massaging your muscles, you’re allowing your muscles to regenerate while reducing soreness and preventing injury at the same time; so the appeal is obvious.

With that said, the tools you use can make all the difference as they are not created equal. Take massage sticks and foam rollers for example. Both are widely used for self-massaging, yet both present entirely different benefits and downsides. As a result, choosing between them can be tricky, especially if you’ve never used these tools before.

Luckily, in this article, we’re going to explore the key differences between foam rollers and massage sticks to help you make a decision when it comes to which tool is right for you!

What is a Foam Roller?

If you’re a regular at the gym or you’ve been under the care of a physical therapist, then there’s no doubt that you’ve seen a foam roller in action. Everyone from pro athletes to regular exercisers, to professionals love the cylindrical foam fitness tool for self-myofascial release, or SMR, which is the technical term for self-massage.

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The best thing about using a foam roller for SMR is that anyone can do it. It’s a simple way to improve flexibility and mobility in your muscles. Foam rollers also promote blood flow to specific areas of the body, which means faster tissue repair and less muscle soreness after working out.

That increased blood flow also helps you recover from injury as well. That’s why foam rollers are a common sight at physical therapy offices. Even better, those who keep using the foam roller after recovering from injury become less prone to future injuries.

The Right Way to Use a Foam Roller

A woman stretching her back with the foam roller.

You might be ready to start using a foam roller for SMR today, but hold on. Just like with any other piece of exercise equipment, you need some guidance on how to use it properly. Otherwise, you could end up injuring yourself further and finding yourself in even more pain.

Let’s look at some of the best ways to use a foam roller to make sure you’re using it effectively and enhancing your workouts.


Probably the most basic way to use a foam roller is for SMR, as mentioned above. The technique is simple. You use your body weight to press against the foam roller and massage away knots, trigger points, and tight muscles.

Where you apply pressure depends upon where you feel pain. Experiencing lower back pain? Use the foam roller to massage your upper hip flexors, which will help loosen up your back.

For Exercises and Workouts

You don’t need to use foam rollers just before or after workouts. You can use them during your workout at home or at the gym.

Foam rollers are excellent for adding resistance to your workouts. For example, placing a foam roller under your feet adds more tension and challenge to almost any abdominal exercise. It’s a simple and effective way to enhance your workouts.

A woman exercising at home with a foam roller.

Pros & Cons of Using Foam Rollers

When it comes to the benefits foam rollers can provide, there are quite a few. For one, they can be an incredible source of SMR, allowing you to use them while you’re working out and after working out. They also come in large sizes to allow you to target and focus on a large portion of the body.

Foam rollers are simple to use, as all you need to do is put your weight onto them. They also increase blood flow, which can lead to quicker recovery time from injuries and increased flexibility in your muscles.

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As for cons, due to their sometimes large size, foam rollers aren’t the best for toting around while you travel. If you’re expecting something you can safely fit in your backpack or gym bag, then foam rollers are not for you.

Who Should Use Foam Rollers?

As stated earlier, the foam roller is good for practically anyone with achy muscles. Runners, athletes, and those healing from injury may enjoy its benefits the most. Simple stretching may not be enough to provide relief, but a foam roller will get the job done.

The foam roller is a massage and fitness tool all in one. It’s a worthwhile investment for anyone who wants to experience its wonderful benefits.

What is a Massage Stick?

In many ways, a massage stick is similar to a foam roller’s a tool you can use to perform SMR or self-massage. Using it regularly can help speed up post-workout recovery, reduce muscle soreness, and increase flexibility.

The main difference is how they look. Massage sticks are not made from foam, but rather, hard and dense plastic, making them ideal for use on specific areas of the body or trigger points. Foam rollers tend to be large, but massage sticks are thin, small, and lightweight.

An athlete using a massage stick on her legs.

The Right Way to Use a Massage Stick

A massage stick and a foam roller will produce similar results, but the largest difference is how they are used. You use a massage stick by holding either end in your hands and applying pressure to the area that needs relief. Want more or less pressure? Just push harder or ease up. You’re in control.

For example, if your right front thigh muscle is sore. You would simply take the massage stick and roll it along that specific area. Use the amount of pressure that feels right to you. You can lift the stick up at any point to let your muscles relax mid-treatment.

Pros & Cons of Massage Sticks

Because you’ll be using your hands to control the massage stick, you can dictate how much pressure is applied to the area of your body you’re focusing on.

Massage sticks are also smaller than foam rollers, and allow you to stretch out the fascia — or the thin casing of connective tissue that surrounds and holds every blood vessel, organ, nerve fiber, muscle, and bone in place — which can significantly increase flexibility.

Unlike foam rollers, massage sticks can be tucked away in gym bags and are extremely portable. However, there are some downsides to massage sticks.

Because they are made of a firm material, you might find massage sticks painful or uncomfortable when using them. With this in mind, it’s recommended that only experienced foam rollers use massage sticks.

Who Should Use Massage Sticks?

If you’re a frequent traveler or you’re running short distances, then a massage stick is probably best. It’s small and thin, making it easy to take with you when you’re on the go.

It’s also a great option if you have one specific muscle that’s causing pain. You can use the massage stick to really focus on that one area.

A man exercising with the use of a foam roller.

Which Is Right For You?

As you can see, which tool you use will depend heavily on your unique lifestyle and preferences. Both of these tools can provide a reinvigorating self-massage, but if you’re looking for something you can travel with, we’d go with a massage stick.

For those who exercise at home or a local gym, foam rollers can be the ideal choice. Regardless, the benefits both of these tools offer far outweigh the downsides, so no matter which option you go with your bound to improve your health overall!