A foam roller is a great tool to help recovery from any kind of physical activity. Whether you take a daily run or you lift in the gym, at some point you’ll have to deal with sore, stiff muscles.
But what if you don’t have a foam roller?
Easy. Just use any of our best foam roller substitutes. Chances are you have at least one of these—if not more—in your home right now.
While we do recommend investing in a proper foam roller at some point, for now, you can try any one of these.
Each one is unique and versatile, so it’s up to you which one you choose. You may need to try a few different ones before you find what works well for you!
Top 3 Best and Favorites
Best Substitute from Your Kitchen
1. Rolling Pin
A rolling pin can make a very effective substitute for a foam roller. After all, a rolling pin literally is a roller.
Many foam rollers are made from firmer foam rather than soft foam, so the hardness may not be a deterrent. If you prefer a softer foam roller, then you may not enjoy using a rolling pin on your muscles. Or you can add one more layer of improvisation and wrap a dish towel around it for a bit of cushioning.
Those who do like a firmer foam roller may find benefit in using a rolling pin. The design of a rolling pin makes it very easy to roll your muscles, whether you need relief in your quads, calves, lats, or biceps.
It’s also very easy to use, thanks to the handles on either side. You can use it effectively on yourself, or ask someone to help you if you need relief in a hard-to-reach place. It’s not dissimilar from using a stick massager.
Another helpful thing about using a rolling pin is that the rolling motion should help to stimulate blood flow, which can speed up recovery.
There’s very little chance of a rolling pin getting dented or broken when you use it as a foam roller substitute. They’re very durable and tough, as well as being resistant to moisture, which can help if you’re sweating.
Just don’t let your spouse catch you using their favorite baking tool on your sore muscles!
- Rolls easily and smoothly
- Rolling pins with handles are easier to use
- Helps with muscle recovery
- Increases blood flow
- May be too hard for some individuals
Top Substitute from Your Kids’ Sports Bag
2. Lacrosse Balls
Are you struggling with aches and pains that you just can’t quite rub out? Delving into your kid’s sports bag may yield a helpful tool to relieve muscle soreness—lacrosse balls.
Unlike a rolling pin, these work smaller, more targeted muscle pains rather than larger muscles. They’re easy to use on small spots like under the foot, the forearms, and in between the shoulder blades.
They’re inconspicuous and easy to carry around with you, unlike a rolling pin.
If you’re at home, you can lie on a yoga mat or on the floor and place the ball on the floor. Rest the sore muscle on it, and move gently until the ball hits the sore spot. Then rest your full weight on it. It will hurt at first, but the knot will be released thanks to direct pressure.
You can use them anywhere on the body, as long as you can find a way to apply enough pressure to work out the tightness. The only thing that may put some people off is that the lacrosse balls may be too hard for them to use comfortably.
- Trigger point massage
- Deep tissue penetration
- Easy to reach smaller sore spots
- Can be used on the whole body
- Some people may find lacrosse balls to be too hard
Best Substitute from Your Backpack
3. Water Bottle
Most of us have a water bottle lying around somewhere. With the emphasis on sustainability these days, many of us have not only plastic water bottles, but also metal or stainless steel bottles.
A hard bottle can be used as a foam roller substitute quite easily. Like a rolling pin, it can be rolled over any muscle it can reach to offer some relief from knots and tension. It’s also great for stretching out the arch of the foot.
If you’re going to be going out for a hike or a long run and you know you may be feeling sore by the end, you can fill up a bottle with water and freeze it. This is a great idea also for recovery.
Rolling with a cold bottle can be uncomfortable, and you may have to cover it with a towel to prevent it from hurting your skin. If you choose to do this, you’ll be getting the benefit of rolling over the muscles as well as the benefits of cold therapy. This can help to decrease swelling and inflammation in the area of the tightness.
Not all water bottles will be able to withstand bodyweight if you want to roll your shoulders or hips, so you may need to invest in a stainless steel bottle. If you want to keep using a bottle that’s not as strong as a stainless steel one, you will need to fill it and freeze it to avoid breaking it.
- Filled bottle can be frozen to help reduce swelling and inflammation
- Stretches the arch of your foot
- Helps to soothe tired and sore muscles
- Relieves pain
- Not all water bottles will be able to withstand body weight
Most Versatile Substitute
4. Massage Gun
If you don’t have a foam roller but you have a massage gun, you can get the same benefit from the massage gun for your muscles. The mechanism is a little different than a foam roller, because it uses percussive therapy instead of a rolling massage action.
You can use a massage gun on any part of the body, no matter which muscle is painful or tight. If you have a high-quality massage gun, they come with a variety of speed settings, as well as different attachments of different shapes.
This makes it a very versatile option. You can experiment with different speeds and pressures on different muscles. Different-shaped attachments are also helpful for dealing with specific pains.
Trigger points would benefit from a smaller, thinner attachment, while large muscles could use a flatter and bigger attachment.
The benefits of using a massage gun are many. It eases pain, cramps, and tension in the muscles, and it’s very effective when you can set it to exactly the right pressure and shape for you.
It also helps to increase circulation to move oxygen more effectively throughout the body. This helps the muscles to recover faster, and it can also be a good way to get your muscles warm before you work out.
If you don’t have a massage gun at home already, it is quite a lot more expensive than a foam roller.
- Increases blood circulation
- Improves muscle recovery time
- Deep tissue massage
- Various speed settings and different massage attachments
- A good massage gun can be expensive
- Probably not a common household item
Best Double-Use Running Item
5. Stick Massager
This is a useful contraption that can roll out sore muscles quite effectively. It’s fairly thin, so it’s not something you can use to pinpoint particular sore spots or reach deep tissue for a massage.
But it is effective for things like niggly quads and tight calves, as well as possibly the arch of the foot. It improves recovery and relieves soreness, keeping muscles flexible and feeling strong.
You can get these in various sizes, so you can choose one that works best for you. They come in normal sizes and flexibility, stiffer versions, and even a travel version that you can carry with you.
- Helps to prevent repetitive strain injuries
- Improves recovery and flexibility
- Relaxes tight and sore muscles
- Available in multiple sizes
- You can’t use it on trigger point pains
Top Substitute from Your Garage
6. PVC Pipe
If you searched your garage right now, I’d be willing to bet that there’s a piece of PVC pipe somewhere in there. This is another great foam roller substitute, as it’s very firm and durable.
PVC pipe also comes in a variety of diameters. If you have a piece of the smaller size, it could be effective for stretching out the arches of your feet, rolling calf muscles or forearms, or even quads. Larger sizes can be used to roll out larger muscle groups like hips and quads effectively.
When you’re done using it, you can just place it back in the garage so it doesn’t even take up space in your gym bag or house.
- Can ease muscle pain
- Helps reduce post-workout muscle soreness
- Various sizes available
- Can be used on legs and back
- Different sizes may be less versatile
Best Substitute from Your Kid’s Little League Team
7. Baseball bat
A baseball bat is great for rolling out muscles in the legs and back. One of the advantages to a baseball bat is that its shape has different thicknesses, so you have a very thin area and a slightly thicker area. It’s almost like having two different foam rollers.
Rolling different areas of the bat over sore muscles can help to increase blood flow, speed up muscle recovery, warm-up before a workout, and even reduce inflammation and swelling thanks to better circulation.
Even if you have pain in a specific point of your muscle, you can use the bottom of the bat to pinpoint it and release it.
- Can be used on the legs and back
- Helps to increase blood circulation
- Aids in speeding up muscle recovery
- Reduce swelling and inflammation
- May be too thin for some people to use comfortably
Top Dual Purpose Massage Tool
8. Trigger Point AcuCurve Cane Massage Tool
This unusual-looking tool can be used to reach muscles that may not be easy to reach normally. The neck, back, and shoulders can be reached and rolled easily with this tool.
It’s ergonomically designed to make it comfortable for you to massage or rub out knots in muscles that you may not usually be able to get to. The curved shape means you can hold it in front of your chest and rub out the tension in your neck or upper back.
A double-ball design also means you can roll on it if you wish to put more pressure on specific points.
- Can be used on neck, back and shoulders
- Relieves tight and sore muscle knots
- Ergonomic handle
- Double massage ball design
- Some may find the angle of the orange balls to be awkward and difficult to use
- Also, not a common household item. But a good multi-purpose massage tool
What are the most commonly tight muscle groups?
Every muscle can tighten up and get cramps, but some are more common than others. The shoulders and neck muscles are common ones, and can lead to neck pain and even tension headaches.
Back muscles are large and play a supporting role in just about every movement. It’s easy for them to become stiff and tight, and when they are, it can be hard to avoid using them.
We don’t often feel it, but the hips can also become very tight. Regular stretching is advised, as a loss of flexibility in the hips can affect your range of movement. The calf muscles are also often tight and stiff and can inhibit your movement, especially if you’re running.
What is the best way to use massage items such as a ball?
The best way to use a massage ball or similar item is to place it on the ground and rest the sore muscle on top of it. Move your whole body gently so the ball moves across the tight spot.
When you feel the ball resting on a part of the muscle that’s particularly tight, stop moving and relax your body so your full weight is on the ball. It may feel like the ball is pressing hard into your muscle, but that’s exactly what we’re going for.
This pressure on the trigger point can release the tightness right at the source. Keep doing this until you feel the tightness begin to loosen up.
What are trigger points and what does a trigger point ball or similar item do?
You may have heard the phrase “trigger points” before when you’ve been looking for massagers or muscle recovery tools. These points are specific focal spots in skeletal muscle that can be easily irritated and become tight and painful.
A trigger point ball, or similar household item, can reach into the deep tissue at these specific points to release that pressure. Because the ball is smaller in size than a foam roller, it can target a smaller, more specific point rather than a larger and more general muscle area.
How often should you use any of these items? Can you exercise afterward?
You can use these items for massage or myofascial relief twice a day if you feel like you need it that often. Any more than that may cause bruising, swelling, or more pain.
Once the knot or tightness has been relieved, stretch the muscle gently to relieve any lingering pain. You can do a light workout afterward, but try to avoid doing a heavy workout or fatiguing the muscle for at least 24 hours after release.