Smooth vs Textured Foam Rollers-What’s the Difference?

Workouts, exercise, or sitting at a desk for long periods are just a few examples that leave you with stressed, tight and sore muscles. Mobility becomes limited as range of motion declines due to irritation and discomfort. You wonder if self-massaging with foam rollers will relieve the pain, but should you choose a smooth or textured foam roller?

What’s The Difference?

When you start thinking of purchasing a foam roller it’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the choices. The first thing to do is to separate them into 2 styles: Smooth and Textured.

The primary difference you will notice is the texture. Even though there may be a distinction between the firmness of the foam itself, that’s usually not enough to worry about.

Textured or Smooth?

Even though this is not a technical discourse, I want to give you 3 points of reference for using the best foam rollers:

  • Massaging muscle tissue
  • Releasing trigger points, or knots formed by nerve endings in the muscle or fascia
  • Kneading Myofascia

Smooth
Smooth foam rollers, or the ones with very small bumps all over them, are better for massaging the surface muscle and kneading fascia tissue.

Textured
Textured rollers have everything from ridges to spikes. The purpose of all textured rollers is to penetrate deeper than the smooth styles. Deeper penetration into the muscle tissue has the advantage of locating and releasing trigger points.

Smooth Rollers

The smooth style is used primarily for massaging what I refer to as surface muscles and the fascia. Smooth rollers can be the best starting point to give you an idea of how they feel and learning how to use any roller. They aren’t as aggressive as bumpy or textured rollers and can feel more relaxing.

Even though smooth or textured rollers are gadgets easily carried along when traveling, a lot of people prefer the smooth style on trips. Something like the 18″ models are convenient, easy to transport, and you can get your whole body on it.

Improve Posture With Smooth Texture

The 36″ smooth rollers are great for improving your posture. With the long models, you can lie vertically and work muscles from side to side. This allows you to roll from your spine outwards to work on the mechanics of standing up straight.

Why Beginners Use Smooth Rollers

When you are foam rolling already sore muscles, it may not make good sense to aggravate them by pressing on them with your body weight. In fact, it may even hurt?

man with back pain
Foam Rollers for Pain Relief

But the truth is, the hurt is a “good hurt”. The soreness I am speaking of here is from muscles being tired, overworked, or merely having been held in the same position too long.

Smooth Rollers Are Easier

When you start rolling them with a foam roller and your body weight, you are massaging them in a direct attempt to increase blood flow to bring healing.

Using a smooth style roller simply doesn’t dig as deep into muscle tissue. Personally I don’t think the results are as good, but smooth rollers are easier to get used to and manipulate than textured styles.

Textured Rollers

When it comes to textured rollers, there are different choices there also. Textured rollers are for getting a more aggressive, intense and deeper massage.

Some of the textured rollers are larger diameter with ridges and spikes that really get deep into the tissue and work with trigger points and knots.

Texture for Trigger Points

If you are new to trigger points, they are a primary source of muscle pain and can be massaged and released with textured rollers. The trigger points are specific spots in muscle tissue where nerve endings have become knots. They are usually about half the diameter of the size of a common pencil and are very sensitive to touch or probing.

drawing of leg muscle trigger points
Foam Rolling Releases Painful Trigger Points

These trigger points can be close to the surface or buried deep within muscle tissue, especially after a workout. When you pay for a deep tissue massage, someone probes with their fingers to find them. Once found, direct pressure or massaging the particular point releases the tension and the associated muscle pain.

Textured rollers allow you to probe for them, release them, which releases pain and soreness using your own bodyweight.

What They Do

Our bodies and particularly muscles take a lot of stress during any normal day and quite a bit more from exercise. Muscles get tired, tight, and sore, and wind up increasing pressure on joints. All of this limits our mobility either from tightness, or fear of pain.

What makes foam rolling so advantageous is the ability to use your own body weight for relief, that really works. It’s quite a bit less expensive than a massage, and in most cases does a much better job.

Is Foam Rolling the Same as Stretching?

Anyone into working out, or any sort of regular exercise, is aware of the benefits and need for stretching, but foam rolling is different. Stretching is essential for lengthening muscle tissue and tendons, especially after exercise.

Foam rolling is for targeting tight muscles and knots formed in both muscle tissue and fascia as it increases blood flow. The increased blood flow rejuvenates tired and aching muscle and increases mobility and motivation to continue on.

Using Foam Rollers

Believe it or not, foam rolling takes some practice to reap the full results. The more you practice, the more proficient you become at:

  • Moving your body on the roller
  • Applying just the right amount of body weight weight
  • Remembering where your trigger points are and quickly locating them
woman using foam roller on hamstrings
Using a foam roller for relaxation and pain relief

As your mastery of those 3 items grows, you will better understand smooth vs textured rollers. I can tell you that smooth rollers are usually used for beginners and for all levels to massage the fascia tissue.

About Fascia and Foam Rolling

Even though each individual muscle is completely wrapped with fascia, the same connective tissue actually encompasses your entire body. If you can imagine your skin as one continuous organ that you wear over your body for protection, it’s easy to see fascia as the same thing — just under the skin.

Fascia has a blood supply and nerves but is very thin and almost transparent. It gets knots in it the same as muscle tissue, and smooth rollers are great for massaging and kneading this material because it is close to the surface.

With that in mind, you can see that a smooth roller will adequately roll out the tension in the fascia. However, given that it also tends to knot up and have it’s own trigger points, you can also use a textured roller for an even better massage.

Summary

Both textured and smooth foam rollers have their place. And to tell you the truth, there’s no way anyone can tell you the best one to start with.

3 different styles of foam rollers for muscle pain and recovery
Foam rollers come in a wide variety of textures and styles

However, if you are tired of sore muscles, my advice is to get one and start learning for yourself how to use them. I have no desire to sugarcoat the benefits of foam rolling or the advantages of any one style.

The benefits speak for themselves with continued use as you see for yourself the disappearance of muscle and sometimes skeletal problems you’ve dealt with for some time.

Once You Start, You Want Both Styles

I’m so sold on them, that I think it’s worth starting right out with both a smooth and textured roller. Having both styles will allow you to get the most relief possible from all the different areas of your body.

It takes a little practice to learn how to actually control your body weight to get just the right amount of pressure, and even to roll your body on it.

Start Easy

In fact, you can start out by merely sitting on a smooth roller. Just sit on it and roll out your glutes. Rolling your glutes can immediately relieve low back pain and help your posture.

Lie on the floor with a textured roller under your shoulder blades, with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. In this bridge position, slowly roll from your neck to about halfway down your back. The ridges of a textured roller will probe and alert you of any distressed trigger points.

Once located, gently press a little more body weight on it for about 15 seconds. Now roll all the surrounding muscles with either it or a smooth roller for a great and productive massage.

Either the textured or smooth style foam roller provides real and lasting relief from sore, tired, and painful muscles.

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