Here is the short answer. No, foam rolling is not just a trend.
Here's why we still foam roll:
Foam rolling was once thought to be Colossus of Clout, The Great Bambino, The Sultan of Swat, The King Of Crash! Okay..that might have actually been Babe Ruth. But still, why has it been under some close perusal lately because we once thought it was all those great things for our muscles? Now, instead of being the high quality mobile massage therapist, it's now known as the poor man's massage to some. Have the differences between a massage therapist and a foam roller actually ever been closely examined? Just because it may not have been truly tested does not mean you should not still use it because foam rollers have really great benefits for our muscles.
What was the foam roller believed to do back when it was "trendy"? Well, to mimic that of a massage therapist's work of course. Similar to a deep tissue massage actually. Many now believe that the foam roller doesn't actually provide enough pressure to the muscles to what a massage therapist pressure and shearing force between tissue layers could do: release trigger points and break up knots. A deep tissue massage leaves you sore the next day while a more relaxing massage leaves you feeling like a million bucks like you can jump out of bed in the morning, literally. Foam rolling nowadays is considered to be more like a relaxing massage. Both great massages to have, but different.
If you've ever put pressure on a freshly cooked medium steak you notice the juices come out and will get sucked back in, like a sponge. Foam rolling is similar, kind of. We might just be hungry. Foam rolling moves stagnant fluids out of our tissue and brings new fluid in. Meaning, your blood flow increases, and lymphatic drainage begin to happen. You could see how this is great for the body, right? Toxins moving out and more nutrients being fed to our thirsty muscles.
Lymph: a colorless fluid containing white blood cells, that bathes the tissues and drains through the lymphatic system into the bloodstream.
With media and work, everything is automated and life happens much faster than it used to. This leaves you with higher cortisol levels due to stress at work or trying to figure out when you can fit your next workout in. If we are always in a stressed state then our movement patterns suffer, our sleep suffers, muscle recovery, our lives, in general, all suffer. This is exactly why foam rolling is good for us, it tells our body that it is indeed okay to relax.
Breathing influences our sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system because it's autonomically happening. And since breathing affects our neurological state that means it can affect our movement patterns. What's this have to do with foam rolling? Well, when we feel tight in our muscles it might just be that we are neurologically tight and may not even have mobility issues. When our neurological system is stressed or threatened it creates a sort of shield to protect us from injury thus feeling tight. Well, similar to how we can use breathing to relax we can also use pressure from the foam roller to release. Once we feel relaxed of course our mobility, range of motion increases, and tension decreases. This allows our length-tension relationships to be closer to be a little more ideal. In turn, allowing our primary tissues to perform at a much higher level without having to actually stretch.
Simple right? Just get the neurological system to ease up a bit and allow our range of motion to be greater without having to stretch? Then that's exactly what we should do.
Foam rolling can allow that to happen. But foam rolling isn't the only thing that you should do. You should still stretch and focus on breathing because all three of these things are going to open up a window of opportunity to increase the quality of our tissue. But we know that those three things will only create temporary change so we have to be aware and be consistent with our movements.