Foam Roller vs. Massage Stick – Which Is Better?

What's the difference between foam rollers vs. massage sticks? See the differences and similarities between these two fitness devices.

When it comes to giving yourself a proper massage, most people rely on foam rollers, massage sticks, or an electric back massager to get the job done. Massaging your muscles is beneficial for several reasons, including tissue regeneration, soreness reduction, and injury prevention. However, if you’re opting for a non-electric massage tool, it may be hard to know which equipment to choose between foam roller vs. massage stick.

Foam rollers and massage sticks aren’t the same, but they do fall under the same category. Massage sticks are sometimes considered as a subcategory of foam rollers, but they function differently. Just like anything, choosing the right one for you may come down to preference.

If you want to know the differences between a foam roller vs. massage stick, read on.

An Overview of the Foam Roller

Chances are that you’ve seen people using a foam roller in the gym or a physical therapy session.

The cylindrical foam fitness is popular among athletes, professionals, and other people who work out regularly. Foam rollers are popular not only for their massage purposes, but also for SMR or self-myofascial release.

Anyone can use a foam roller for SMR, which is a scientific term for self-massage. SMR is beneficial for several reasons, including promoting muscle mobility, flexibility, and tissue regeneration. This all means that with regular use, you can loosen up your muscles and help with soreness that happens after working out. Your muscles recover much faster after using a foam roller from increased blood flow to the region.

Foam rollers also help with recovery after an injury, which is why you will see them used in physical therapy or by health professionals. In addition to injury recovery, foam rollers help to prevent injury when used regularly and correctly.

How to Use a Foam Roller

Before you go running to use a foam roller, make sure you’re using it effectively and not incorrectly. Incorrect use could worsen your injuries and cause more muscle pain.

There are a few key ways you can use foam rollers to enhance your workouts and any exercises you may have:

  • Self-massage. As we mentioned before, foam rollers are a great way to massage out the knots or trigger points in your body. This process is known as SMR, or self-myofascial release. When using foam rollers in this way, the body is on top of or against the foam roller. Using your weight against it helps to massage the tight muscles and relieve pain. The specific areas that you apply pressure depend on where you’re experiencing pain. For example, if you have lower back pain, you’ll massage on the front hip flexors to help relieve this pain.
  • Exercises. Foam rollers can also enhance your home or gym workouts. There are several exercises you can do utilizing a foam roller to help build resistance. It is easy to incorporate your foam roller into your workout routine. For example, if you are doing an ab workout, you can use a foam roller under your feet to create even more tension in the core region. Foam rollers are convenient for at-home workouts or in your gym.
woman working out with a foam roller

Y Photo Studio/ Shutterstock

Foam Roller Pros

  • Excellent source of SMR: Using this tool during or post workout is a great way to self-massage. Foam rollers are big in length and can span almost half of the body, meaning you target a large portion of your body.
  • Easy-to-use tool: Foam rollers are easy to use because you’re putting your weight onto the foam roller instead of doing the handwork with a massage stick.
  • Many benefits: There are many benefits to using a foam roller like increased blood flow, speedy recovery from injuries, and increased muscle flexibility.

Foam Roller Cons

  • Not great for travel: Traveling around with a foam roller is less than ideal. Standard foam rollers tend to be large and aren’t made from a flexible material. They won’t fit in most gym bags, and if they do, they take up a lot of space.

Who Is the Foam Roller Good for?

A foam roller is a great option for runners, athletes, or someone recovering from an injury. It’s probably the best option for anyone who wants to get both massage and fitness benefits out of it.

If you find yourself with achy muscles, stretching them out won’t help much, but a foam roller will. Invest in a foam roller and enjoy the amazing feeling and benefits.

See the Best Foam Rollers

An Overview of the Massage Stick

woman using massage stick

leungchopan / Shutterstock

A massage stick is technically a type of foam roller, but they are different because of the way you use them.

Firstly, massage sticks are much smaller and thinner compared to their big cousins, the foam roller. They are also much firmer and denser than foam rollers because they are made from a tough plastic material.

While massage sticks look different than foam rollers, the purpose is essentially the same. Massage sticks are another fitness tool for SMR or self-massaging. Using them on your trigger points post-workout can help your muscles regenerate much faster, decreasing the amount of soreness you experience. If you use them over time, you’ll also notice much more flexibility in your body.

How to Use a Massage Stick

The significant difference between a massage stick and a foam roller is the way you use it.

You use a massage stick by applying pressure from your own hands rather than your body. It takes a little more effort on your end because you’re using your hands and arms to apply the pressure to your muscles. You can choose the amount of pressure you want to apply to the region. In some ways, this is helpful because your muscles get a chance to breathe in the middle of the treatment.

Example: Place the middle of the massage stick directly on the trigger point or muscle knot. Your hands should be on either end of the stick. Gently roll the massage stick over the knot area while applying the desired pressure.

woman using massage stick

Tiger Tail

Massage Stick Pros

  • Controlled pressure: Because you’re using your hands, you can get creative with how you use it, including how much pressure you apply to the region. It can be beneficial to alternate the amount of pressure you apply to allow your muscles to breathe.
  • Great for flexibility increase: The small size helps stretch out the flascia, which is an excellent way to increase your flexibility.
  • Portable design: Massage sticks are much smaller than foam rollers. This means they are great for travel and easy to throw in your gym bag. Most of them will fit into a carry on suitcase easily.  If you are frequently on-the-go, you’ll get much more use out of your massage stick.

Massage Stick Cons

  • Firm material: The material is firm, so we recommend this stick for experienced foam roller users. It also may be uncomfortable or painful for some users. A foam roller is much easier to the touch.

Who Is the  Massage Stick Good for?

The massage stick is probably best for those who find themselves running across town or traveling frequently. Because of the size, it’s easy to take anywhere with you. It’s also great for using all across a specific muscle in the body. If you have one problem area, this may be a great option for you.

See the Best Massage Sticks

Which Is Better?

As you can probably tell, the foam roller vs. massage stick debate comes down to personal preference and lifestyle.

Massage sticks and foam rollers both give a soothing self-massage, but massage sticks take the cake when it comes to portability. If you find yourself mostly working out at home or in a gym, a foam roller is ideal. However, fitness people who are always on the go may want to choose a massage stick.

No matter which one you choose, use one of these tools to enjoy the benefits they offer.

foam roller vs. massage stick – which is better?