Self-Myofascial Release (SMR) is a self-massage technique that aids in the recovery of soft muscle tissue and has been shown to improve overall health and fitness. Think of it as though you’re giving your body a deep-tissue massage. Research has shown that SMR augments joint range of motion, enhances athletic performance, increases muscle resiliency, and prevents injury. SMR also corrects muscle imbalance, aids in muscle relaxation, and decreases muscle inflammation and soreness. I use foam rollers, but it can also be done with tennis balls (many with plantar fasciitis roll their feet over a tennis ball), hand-held devices, or medicine balls. Interestingly, the body reacts to foam rolling as if the muscles have been injured, immediately sending receptors to aid in repair. By confusing your own body, SMR can increase rapid muscle recovery. Foam rolling also improves vascular endothelial functioning, the organ system that regulates blood flow based on muscle movement. One study showed that subjects who used SMR with a foam roller before doing vertical jumps had significantly less fatigue than those who didn’t use a foam roller prior to the drill.
If you’ve had a great back/neck massage, or given one, you may recall the “pop” when rolling over a muscle knot. It continues to pop if pressure is applied back and forth across the muscle. Pressing directly on the muscle helps release the knot; but it can be uncomfortable. As tight muscles turn over the foam roller, the same “pop” will occur. I’m not going to lie, it won’t feel great. But, you’ll become accustomed to the sensation. The key is to roll slowly and stop for about 30-60 seconds when you hit a tender spot. Allow your muscles to relax. Just give into it. Continue breathing while the muscles release. It’s important to maintain core stability by pulling the navel towards the spine (without rounding the back) while rolling. Using the proper technique will take practice. *It should be noted that those with congestive heart failure, kidney (or any organ) failure, or any organ failure, bleeding disorders, or contagious skin conditions should not participate in SMR without medical clearance.
Although, during the action of SMR, rolling over knotted muscles may be a little painful, the benefits far outweigh any discomfort. The discomfort is not bad! You are giving your body an amazing gift. I have a love/hate relationship with my foam rollers; but I can definitely say it’s more love. Rollers come in many different styles and lengths. Pick the one that’s right for you! The roller in the picture has some added pressure points; but I also have a solid foam roller. I can feel a huge difference in my muscle strength and flexibility when I use the roller on a regular basis. Breathe and remember that your muscles will thank you later. Now, get to rolling!
Penney, S., Foam Rolling- Applying the Technique of Self-Myofascial Release, National Association of Sports Medicine, August 2013.
Keller, J. The Benefits of Self-Myofascial Release, IDEA Fitness Journal; 2013: 96.