Walk into any gym, studio or very active persons living room nowadays and there is a good chance that there will be a large cylinder of foam somewhere in the room. Maybe you’ve seen them press a baseball between themselves and the wall? And even if you haven’t seen or heard of either of the above, you have definitely gone or know of someone that has gone for a massage.
So, why the fuss? I am yet to meet someone who enjoys foam rolling, and any masseuse worth their salt has kneaded some knots in a clients body which has left the client saying ‘owwww’. How does putting ourselves through some short term pain help our bodies?
Before we go any further, we must distinguish between Self Myofascial Release Therapy (just to make reading and writing this easier, “SMRT”) and Myofascial Release Therapy (again, for convenience sake “MR”) - foam rolling and similar acts are categorised under SMRT and getting a specific treatment from a health practitioner would be categorised as MR.
Whilst they may differ slightly, their aim is the same - to release muscular shortness and tightness, specifically of the ‘fascia’, which is actually the connective tissue which connects, stabilises and encloses our muscular tissue. Picture an orange - when you peel it open, that thin white film that keeps each wedge together, thats like the fascia found in our muscles.
Now, why is it important to look after our fascia? Simply, because it connects all of the muscular systems in our body together. Should this film become aggravated it could lead to a variety of unpleasant situations, including:
- Limited movement & high joints;
- Back pain;
- Painful feet.
But, how does fascia cause these issues?
From two sources primarily - first, where the tight fascia has created pressure on a muscle or other tissue and second, from damage to the fascia itself. In both cases, the pressure causes a restriction of blood flow - aggravating the contraction and pain further. Ever hear of a trigger point? Yip, thats the point where the contraction has been accentuated.
SMRT and MR help break up these contractions or trigger points, thus restoring blood flow to the area. The important thing, and where people can often go wrong with SMRT, is that the key is sustained gentle pressure - not hard, pressure.
To draw another analogy, if you stick your finger directly and sharply into a block of cold butter, you’ll probably do more damage to your finger than the butter. However, if you place your finger gently into the butter and apply sustained pressure then you will probably have better luck breaking the butter down.
Whilst the technical aspects of MR is specific to medical practitioners, we can take a few key aspects away from how the professionals do it to SMRT.
First, it’s not a quick fix - effective Myofascial Release is that it is a slow process (remember sustained pressure?). When working on SMRT, find the trigger points and spend a sustained period applying gentle pressure to those tight spots.
Second, and related to the first point - you have to be consistent. For MR to be effective, it has to be done every 2 to 3 days at least, depending on the intensity of the contraction.
Third, make sure that you are using the correct techniques (which we will go through as we progress through EZ Recovery - keep an eye out on our social media platforms). Our muscle structures are multi - layered and complex - opening the right muscles and subsequently getting to the deep trigger points are key to ensuring that the time spent on the roller, baseball or whatever else you are using is effective.
Now, it must be kept in mind that there is a time and a place for SMRT. You are using pressure to break tight spots in your muscles (or rather, the sheath around them). If you have suffered a serious injury, breaking that area down further is maybe not the best idea. If you have any doubt whether you should or shouldn’t be SMRT’ing, then consult your preferred medical professional.
I hope this brought you value and helped you understand the technicalities behind the myofascial release. Knowing why we do something allows for improved execution of the process.
Keep your eyes peeled as we break down the techniques to rolling out those trigger points in specific areas of the body.