The Self Massage Showdown: The Foam Roller vs The Stick

by Heather

Since I hurt my knee running 3 months ago, my foam roller and I have become attached at the hip- almost literally. The minute the words “IT band” were even whispered, shouts of “foam roll, foam roll, foam roll!” could be heard from all directions.

self massage tools : foam roller or the stick


And those shouts were right: foam rolling makes a huge difference in injury recovery, and even more importantly- injury prevention.

foam roller

My foam roller is almost as well traveled as I am- it’s accompanied me on many adventures this summer, from MD to VA and all over NC.

But lugging a 3 foot plus foam tube around with you isn’t without its difficulties- and strange glances. And though it probably deserves to, the foam roller isn’t exactly the best use of the 2 carry-on bag restriction on planes these days.

Enter The Stick.

the stick

The foam roller’s baby cousin.

Both the foam roller and the stick are meant to serve the same purpose: self massage.

More precisely, myofascial release. The poor girl’s daily sports massage.

Stretching is great, but it doesn’t get rid of knots in the muscle (known as trigger points).

The foam roller & the stick can. But when to use which one?

self massage tools

Let the showdown begin:

The Foam Roller The Stick
Uses body weight for pressure Uses hands to push stick into muscle
Good for holding over trigger points Good for rolling across muscle
Comes in different firmnesses Comes in different lengths
Good for use at home or gym Good for travel or portable use

In the end it comes down to personal preference, but each has it’s own benefits.

For me, the stick travels with me; the foamroller stays home. I prefer the foam roller for specific trigger spots, and the stick for general muscle massage. The foam roller works better for hips, and the stick works better for the neck & back.

Sometimes it’s awkward to hold yourself up to use the foamroller, so the stick can come in handy for those times- I think it’s less awkward (and feels better) to use the stick for calves than the foam roller, but I think the foam roller feels better on quads.

(Plus, your friends will thank you when you travel bearing massages in the form of the stick:)

stick massage

So until they start packaging up sports massage therapists and selling them for under $25, the stick & foam roller it’ll be.

Are you a foam rolling fan or a stick/tiger tail fan?

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Tracey @ I'm Not Superhuman September 1, 2010 at 8:32 am
I love my foam roller. (Unless I'm in the process of using it, in which case I hate it.) I've tried trigger point therapy, too, but just used my fingers, not a stick. I can see how that'd be a great too, though.
Cynthia (It All Changes) September 1, 2010 at 9:37 am
I need one of those stick thingys. I have a foam roller and love it during TV. But for travel she's a beast (yes it's a she...I imagine she has the name Helga). Great for all the kinks.
Sarah September 1, 2010 at 9:58 am
Thanks for the comparison on these 2 pieces of equipment. I have tried foam rolling at my gym but haven't taken the plunge and purchased my own. I think that based on the small size of my apartment and travel habits, the stick might be the way to go!
Anne Marie@New Weigh of Life September 1, 2010 at 10:26 am
I've never tried either, but I'm curious!
Nichole September 1, 2010 at 10:59 am
Ha, the foam roller's baby cousin. My hubs hates how much these things cost and was determined to build me a janky foam roller made with a yoga mat. I am afraid to show him the stick, haa. Appreciate your side by side comparison chart, super helpful.
Bekah @ September 1, 2010 at 11:34 am
I am a Stick girl all the way. It is the ideal partner to good stretching in preventing injury.
Shannon, Tropical Eats September 1, 2010 at 1:30 pm
i was just looking into these the other day!!! i have this crazy knot in my calf that hasn't gone away since Saturday night. the chart is great!
aron September 1, 2010 at 4:03 pm
i use both! the stick for some things and the foam roller for others. i do like my trigger point grid foam roller WAY better than the normal one though, it digs in much more :)
Chelsea @ Strawberry Sweat September 1, 2010 at 5:31 pm
I am definitely a foam roller person, since it's the only one I own right now! I've looked at getting the Stick, but I think the foam roller works just fine for me. Thanks for the comparison post though!
Karyn September 1, 2010 at 6:04 pm
i have both and don't really prefer one over the other. maybe because i rarely use them. oops!
Mary September 1, 2010 at 6:50 pm
I LOVE the stick!! I saw one today at the running store and contemplated getting it... I might go back and do it :)
Lisa September 1, 2010 at 7:15 pm
I have the Foam Roller and LOVE it. It has helped me so many times. Over the weekend I tried to Tiger Tail. I think the stick is good for traveling or when you don't have space for the foam roller...
Teri [a foodie stays fit] September 1, 2010 at 7:46 pm
I love both the foam roller and the stick. I feel like the foam roller is more effective for me, but that's probably because it's just better at working my problem areas (like my IT band). I've never seen a mini stick like yours! Mine is a little bigger but still works for traveling!
Kristina @ spabettie September 1, 2010 at 7:53 pm
I think I need a stick... I have foam rollers and LOVE them... they are so awesome in between my massage + acupuncture, and very necessary!
BroccoliHut September 1, 2010 at 8:57 pm
I vote for the stick! Just like a toothbrush for your muscles:)
Alice September 1, 2010 at 10:02 pm
I love love my Tigertail stick! It really helps with my Si joint issues. it is even better when someone uses it on me. my personal trainer will "roll" me out before or after a workout. Which is awesome!
Marilyn @ Lipgloss and Spandex September 2, 2010 at 12:19 am
I like having both. I figured I could buy both for less than the cost of one sports massage! It depends on what hurts and where. Sometimes I just can't take the pressure of the foam roller (like when I had really bad IT band problems), so the stick was better. I also like having both because I get less bored--I'll use both, which means using them longer and getting better faster!
Theresa @ActiveEggplant September 2, 2010 at 11:06 am
I'm a super duper fan of The Stick! But I've never actually used a foam roller so I guess I shouldn't write them off yet...
Theodora @ Losing Weight in the City September 2, 2010 at 12:01 pm
Despite the awkward look on my face, I definitely loved the stick! That picture was taken after a 15.5 mile run and I was barely sore the next day. That's an amazing testament to its power.
Olivia @ Blissful Runner September 3, 2010 at 10:50 am
I love my foam roller, but there are definitely some points it's missing. I've been looking into the Stick, but I'm thinking I might just bust out my rolling pin. How different can they be? ;)
Val @ Balancing Val September 3, 2010 at 1:33 pm
Hm i have a foam roller . . . But now I want the stick! :)
Coach Ronda December 23, 2011 at 8:40 pm
I've been trying to determine whether to get the stick, tiger tail or foam roller for a while now. Based on your comparison looks like the stick/tiger tail and foam roller provide different needs. But I think I'll start with the foam roller.
Paige August 3, 2014 at 12:50 pm
My physical therapist gave me a golf ball muscle roller, its a great self massaging tool, i use it every day. Check it out!
Charlie August 6, 2014 at 4:35 pm
Hello, I'm a ballet dancer and I've tried lots of different rollers. I have a Stick and a foam roller, and I would just like to point out that the Stick does in fact come in different firmnesses.
Elizabeth February 19, 2016 at 4:57 am
Oh, didn't consider buying a stick for travel purposes (yet). Thanks for sharing your input on this.
Lisa March 14, 2016 at 2:09 pm
So glad that I found your website and your comparison. I was debating which one I should go with.

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