Foam Rollers vs. Lacrosse Balls

Foam Rollers vs. Lacrosse Balls

For athletes, releasing tension in the tissues that connect and support their muscles is a key point of interest. Both foam rollers and lacrosse balls can be effective tools for self-release, which can shorten recovery times, reduce pain, treat inflammation, and improve your range of motion.

But which is the better tool for the job? Here, we’ll take a look at some of the similarities and differences when it comes to foam rollers vs. lacrosse balls and how you might incorporate them into your personal recovery routine.

Basics of Foam Rollers

A foam roller is a cylindrical fitness tool you use to roll out the pressure and tension in your muscles and the tissues that connect them. Foam rollers come in a range of varieties, including different lengths, diameters, and shapes.

A small study of eight men saw decreased delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) after exercise when rolling for 20 minutes as part of their recovery. But there are a host of other benefits associated with foam rolling, including: 

  • Reduced muscle pain
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Increased range of motion
  • Injury prevention
  • Assisted muscle recovery

While foam rolling can be useful, especially for specific issues, it’s not a one-stop shop for all of your post-workout recovery needs. You should only be using foam rollers for up to 90 seconds on each muscle group. In fact, overuse or misuse of foam rollers can reduce their effectiveness and, in some cases, may even result in injury. 

Basics of Lacrosse Balls

People have been using lacrosse balls as recovery tools for years now. While tennis balls are sometimes used for the same purpose, lacrosse balls are harder. Therefore, you can apply pressure to a lacrosse ball for longer without it starting to soften. This can make it more effective for the kind of extended appliance needed for a 20-minute post-workout myocardial release.

The benefits of lacrosse balls as a post-workout aid are, largely speaking, the same you would expect from a foam roller:

  • Improved joint movement and flexibility
  • Improved circulation
  • Reduced physical stress
  • Reduced soreness and inflammation

As with foam rollers, there are limitations to using lacrosse balls, and they have the same drawbacks in terms of how much they should be used, and the types of pain that they can and can’t address. Acute muscle pain, rather than general muscle soreness, can’t be helped by a lacrosse ball, and any tissue that doesn’t experience release after 90 seconds of application is not likely to benefit from even more attention. Always use lacrosse balls with care so they don’t result in new injuries.

Foam Rollers vs. Lacrosse Balls

You can use both foam rollers and lacrosse balls as recovery tools; however, they differ in the following key areas.


For larger muscle groups, like your back and legs, foam rollers can apply pressure more uniformly and are therefore better for general rolling sessions. Lacrosse balls, on the other hand, allow you to apply very firm pressure in a small area, making it a little easier to address specific areas.


A traditional foam roller is more effective at sweeping up and down large muscle groups in predictable, back-and-forth motions, but you have less control over which parts of your body come into contact with it. By contrast, a lacrosse ball’s small size and spherical shape allow for better targeting; however, it can be difficult to control since a little pressure can cause the lacrosse ball to shoot in a different direction, making for an unpredictable — and even painful — experience.


Because of their size and shape, foam rollers are great for broader muscle groups, such as in your thighs and back. Many people find it relatively easy to achieve a light, medium, or firm pressure using a foam roller. On the other hand, a lacrosse ball is better suited for targeting a certain spot — for instance, the arch of your foot. It’s more difficult, however, to achieve a range of pressure using a lacrosse ball since its small surface area doesn’t distribute pressure as evenly as a foam roller.

How to Choose the Right Recovery Tool

Make sure you’re using each recovery tool when it’s likely to be at its most effective. For most muscle groups, foam rollers are specially designed to provide release while reducing soreness as best as possible. They provide reliable and predictable back-and-forth motion that can work the pressure out of the biggest muscle groups and their myocardial tissue. You can reach for a lacrosse ball, however, when you need to target a specific problem area.

Consider implementing both into your workout recovery routine, and make sure you’re using them correctly, with good posture, and avoiding overuse, which can do more harm than good. Keep in mind, people who experience certain health issues, such as severe osteoporosis, varicose veins, advanced diabetes mellitus, and lymphedema should avoid using foam rollers unless they’re recommended by a medical professional. And avoid rolling over any areas with acute pain, as it can exacerbate certain issues, like a torn muscle.

Now that you have a good idea of the effectiveness of foam rollers vs. lacrosse balls, you can use them both to get the most out of your recovery. When used properly, these tools can help you rehabilitate and prevent injuries in addition to alleviating muscle soreness. Remember to apply steady, controlled pressure to your muscle tissues to banish tightness and you’ll soon experience a return to your regular flexibility.

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