I recently was invited to contribute to Cosmopolitan magazine about whether foam rolling was worth it and effective. Read on to find out my take!
Foam rollers are sausage like cylinders made from various materials (not just “foam per se”)
The more hard the material it is made of (more “tough” less soft material) the more advanced the item is. For most people a medium to soft will be more versatile. Look for one that retains weight as you use it, and ladies, high bun if you have long hair (not a ponytail). There's nothing more painful than trapping your own ponytail underneath the foam roller.
The areas I would avoid are acute injuries unless specifically advised to, and lumbar spine.
Besides that, most other places are fair game. If you want more information about what to do after an injury, check out this post.
The research out there supports the effects of foam rolling to reduce muscle soreness post workout, and I personally use a foam roller to activate muscles after being seated for the day before a workout. My favourite is an electronic one that vibrates as it means I still get movement over the sore spots without having to prolong the soreness by rolling back and forth (trust me I'm extremely tight in my muscles from workouts).
Try to roll briskly back and forth on each area (front of legs, inside of leg, outside, back of leg, calves; then thoracic spine (top part); butt. I like to do about 10 back and forth each area. If you have any "spots" of tension, you can focus on holding pressure on them, or small movements concentrating back and forth on them.
Avoid major joints like the base of your spine, your knees and neck.
Foam rolling gets used by elite sports players to reduce injury. They get so good at it they use PVC pipes!
Foam rolling has been shown to increase your range of motion which allows more adequate loading during exercise.
Although some physical therapy "doesn't believe" in foam rolling, the fact is it can be a more enjoyable way and more straightforward way to start or finish a workout instead of a warm up or a cool down respectively, so if it makes you more likely to do something to warm up or to cool down, it will have a large benefit to be included.
A meta analysis of 49 studies also showed a moderate effect on reducing muscle soreness, and for me if I'm less sore then I'll do my next workout with less excuses of being sore!
Also work your way up to using firmer ones- you'll be less likely to do it if it's excruciating and it doesn't have to hurt to work.
Hope that helps! Don't hesitate to reach out.