3 Ways a Foam Roller Can Kill You

I recently started typing something about foam rollers into Google. As I was typing, one of the auto-suggestions caught my eye.

It was a question I’d never before considered:

‘Can a foam roller kill me?’

I nervously turned to face the foam roller propped up against my bookshelf on the other side of the room. It didn’t look like it was planning anything, but given the stakes, I felt compelled to do some research.

As it turns out, a foam roller cannot kill you of its own volition, as was my initial fear. However, if misused, there are still at least three ways a foam roller can ruin your day. By killing you, that is.  

This article is intended to serve as both a warning and a practical guide to avoiding death by foam roller. 

Let’s begin.

1. Foam Roller Impalement

The average foam roller has a diameter of roughly 5 inches. Think about that for a moment.

If you were to become impaled by one, it can be surmised that you would become injured at the site of the impalement. This is supported by a number of medical case studies (several of which are discussed here), which provide evidence that being impaled causes injury. Moreover, these injuries are usually harmful – involving damaged organs and broken bones and such.

Such injuries are at best uncomfortable, and at worst – lethal. None are likely to heal by themselves, however.

The bottom line is that if you were to become impaled by a foam roller, you would quickly become deceased unless prompt medical intervention was provided.  

Luckily, the blunt, foamy end of foam roller does not lend itself well to use as a stabbing-object. Current literature suggests no one has yet been fatally impaled by one. It is unlikely, therefore, that you will find a foam roller inside your body anytime soon, unless you’re really willing to work for it. 

Nonetheless, if you suspect someone intends to impale you or themselves with a foam roller, gently remind them that doing so is both incredibly dangerous and impossible. Doing so might save a life.

Teaching others how to safely use foam rollers benefits everyone.

2. Swallowing a Foam Roller

The consumption of foam rollers presents a dual risk; they are both a choking hazard and devoid of nutritious value. 

First, a simple but confounding question:

“What are foam rollers made of?” 

Like many of you, I own and use a foam roller, but never thought to find out what it’s made of.

Thankfully, the experts over at TrainingPeaks point out that a foam roller is typically made of foam (…or, rather perplexingly, flexible plastic). This is corroborated elsewhere and appears to be true.

A typical, ‘soft’ foam roller is made of polyethylene – a polymer widely used in range of consumer products.

Studies suggest polyethylene is relatively benign to humans. But if you’re considering snacking on a foam roller, think again. Unless you’re one of those plastic-devouring fungi or bacteria you will be unable to digest it. 

Of course, you’re already thinking, “Just because it’s indigestible doesn’t mean it’s deadly – ”

“How does it actually kill you?”

Well, discerning reader, I’ll tell you. The deadly risk of swallowing a foam roller, it turns out, is tied to its considerable dimensions.

Even a small foam roller typically has a diameter of 10 centimetres or more, not to mention a length of at least half a metre. By contrast, most human mouths measure only 3-8 centimetres in diameter, while even the girthiest of esophagi are only a few centimetres wide.

Data suggests foam rollers are larger than human mouths or esophagi.

The above data suggests that even a very small foam roller is a potentially deadly choking hazard. Symptoms of having a foam roller stuck in the mouth and/or throat may include difficulty breathing, coughing and/or wheezing.

If you or someone you know begins choking on a foam roller, remove it from their mouth or throat as soon as possible.

To minimise harm, always adhere to foam rolling best practices. Foam rollers are not to be ingested, and certainly not ingested whole.

To be extra cautious, consider cutting gym equipment from your diet entirely, as almost all is unfit for human consumption.

3. Being Hit in the Skull by a Foam Roller Travelling 3000 Kilometres Per Hour.

Despite being relatively soft, a foam roller travelling fast enough can be bad news, particularly if you’re lying down on a hard surface that doesn’t easily compress.

The damage a foam roller can do depends on a number of factors such as its mass, speed, impact area and time, and of course, where it hits you.

Let’s assume the following:

  • The foam roller in question weighs 300 grams.
  • It collides with your frontal bone, the bone protecting the frontal lobe of your brain.
  • The impact lasts 0.1 seconds.
  • You are lying on concrete minding your own business.

This impact produces a peak force of roughly 5000 newtons. This much force suddenly distributed across your frontal bone is more than enough to have you seeing stars. It will also kill you. 

Luckily, humans haven’t been known to swing baseball bats more than about 160km/h, and baseball bats are considerably more aerodynamic than foam rollers.

That said, if you know someone who intends to accelerate a foam roller to supersonic speeds and beyond, perhaps by utilising some manner of cannon, it is best to avoid that person for reasons of safety. Consider referring them to someone, too.

Conclusion

Despite the above hypotheticals, foam rolling is generally very safe.

The risk of dying in a foam rolling related incident appears to be fairly low. Foam rolling-related deaths are not listed as a major cause of mortality anywhere, and likely account for approximately 0 per 100,000 deaths in any given population.

In order to maintain these hopeful numbers, ensure you read the instructions that come with your foam roller purchase, and adhere to them carefully. 

Until next time,

Happy rolling. 

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