Massage has long been the favorite way to ease the muscle tension that leads to pain. That’s because it very effectively reduces the anxiety that results in muscular tension. It also increases blood flow to an area, which speeds up the healing process.
Self-Myofascial Release (SMR) is a form of self-massage which has become hugely popular among runners and exercise enthusiasts due to it’s ease of application and immediacy of result. SMR involves alleviating soft-tissue stiffness and pain hot spots with a form of self-massage. It has also proven to be a great post-workout recovery aid.
How SMR Works
SMR makes uses of a simple massage aid, such as a foam roller, to manipulate and put pressure on muscle sore spots. In addition to its rehabilitative ability SMR has been shown to improve flexibility and exercise performance.
To understand how SMR manages to achieve its quite remarkable outcomes with such a seemingly simple procedure, we need to delve into the mysteries of the body’s kinetic chain. The kinetic chain refers to the interconnected soft tissue, neural and articular systems. If any one of these systems is not working optimally, the other systems compensate by working harder. If left unchecked, this will lead to tissue overload, fatigue, pain and restricted mobility.
SMR works on the two neural receptors that are found in your muscles, the muscle spindle and the golgi tendon organ. Muscle spindles, located parallel to muscle fibers, send messages to the central nervous system about fiber length changes as a result of injury, which triggers the myotatic stretch reflex. The result – pain.
Golgi tendon organ overstimulation can likewise lead to inhibited movement and soreness. Soft tissue massage focused on these receptors provides immediate relief from pain, restores normal fiber length and improves function.
Key Benefits of SMR
SMR works to relieve the adhesions that result when your muscles are overstressed and the layer of fascia that covers all of your skeletal muscles tear. By softly applying pressure to these adhesions we relieve ourselves of the hot spot pain that they bring. SMR, though, does more than relief instant pain. Here are 11 auxiliary benefits of using the technique:
- Corrects muscular imbalance
- Increases flexibility and range of motion
- Improves posture
- Enhances strength and athletic performance
- Relieves muscle soreness
- Reduces muscular tension
- Promotes relaxation, causing a temporary reduction in resting heart rate and blood pressure
- Increases circulation to the area
- Decreases muscle spasms
- Promotes lymph flow
- Decreases scar tissue
Treating Trigger Points with SMR
When soft tissue gets injured, the thin layer on top of or between muscles, which is called the fascia, becomes sticky. It is no longer able to slide freely, with the results this area of the muscle becomes stiff and sore. If not addressed quickly, these tight, sore areas can develop into chronic conditions.
Locating and massaging these tight spots can release the tension in a muscle. Myofascial release techniques are similar in providing the results often gained from acupressure and trigger point treatments. While trigger point treatments, acupressure and the like need to be done by a trained professional, we can all perform self myofascial release. Maintaining a high level of soft tissue quality will help you to be flexible and pain free.
There are about 40 muscles in the body. Throughout these muscles there are round 620 potential trigger points. They tend to show up in the same places in most people. Some of the most common areas are the neck, shoulders, lower back and buttocks.
Latent trigger points can lead to poor muscle coordination and balance. Trigger points often also led to pain and weakness in the associated structures.
Self myofascial release which makes use of a trigger point foam roller is a very effective way to treat muscle trigger points. It allows you to place specific pressure in the trigger points and break up the sticky adhesions that cause them.
The Importance of Hydration
Water is the most important nutrient in the body, yet most of us take it for granted. Water is necessary to regulate the body temperature, transport nutrients, build tissue and remove waste from cells. In terms of SMR, proper hydration is vital to get the full benefit of the technique.
Taking in water before your SMR session will keep the muscles hydrated, making them easier to manipulate.
Drinking after your SMR sessions will assist the body in flushing unwanted toxins and other waste materials out of the muscles that were loosened during the session.
Massages are, by nature, dehydrating. They pump fluids out of the tissue and, through the circulatory system, towards the kidneys. To replace that water, which will be expelled as urine, you have to hydrate after your session.
A foam roller is a cylindrical piece of high density foam. The most basic form is a flat edged EPE soft roller. Trigger Point Grid Foam rollers are firmer and feature grooves, indentations and protrusions that allow you to penetrate your trigger points.
Massage Roller Stick
A massage roller stick allows you to get to areas of your body that you can’t otherwise reach. A roller stick looks like a curved walking stick with a number of limbs coming off of it. Each limb has a hard knob on the end of it that use you to penetrate your trigger points.
Massage balls allow you to zone in on your trigger points. These balls come in a range of sizes and hardnesses and allow you to penetrate deeply into your muscle fibers. The most effective type of massage ball is the lacrosse ball, which has the ideal level of density and durability.
Using a Foam Roller
Find an open space that allows freedom of movement. Place the roller on the floor and position your body so that the area of focus is on top of the roller. The pressure that massages the affected area will be provided by your body.
Gently roll your body back and forth over the roller. Your focus should be on areas of tightness and those that have a reduced range of motion. Control this pressure by adjusting the amount of body weight that you place on the roller. You can use your hands and feet to offset the weight as needed. Always ensure that your muscles are thoroughly warmed up prior to a session.
Perform your SMR session immediately after your run. Keep your first few sessions to just a few minutes. Over time, you can extend it to a maximum of 15 minutes.
Using a Therapy Ball
Balls are used to target smaller muscle groups that require a focused treatment. They work best when treating such areas as the feet, calves, glutes and lower back. The type of ball used may be anything from a golf ball to a tennis ball, a softball or even a medicine ball.
The idea of therapy ball massage is to trap the ball between the painful part of your body and the floor (or a wall). By applying just the right amount of pressure you should be able to achieve a release of the muscular pain. Once the correct amount of pressure has been achieved, relax and allow the pain in the muscle to subside. It may take several minutes for this to occur.
Note: When you begin performing SMR, you may feel a level pain or discomfort in the affected muscle area. In order for the process to work, this pain should be uncomfortable. However, it should not be unbearable. When you release the tension the pain should go away and the muscle feel a whole lot better.
Keys to Getting the Most from SMR
The time that you spend doing myofascial exercise should be a mindful experience. Stay tuned in to your body’s instructions and you will know where to place the roller, how much intensity you should place against your body and how long to hold the position. The key is to listen to your body.
You should start at the top of the body or a limb and work to the extremeties. For example, when massaging the legs, start at the thighs and work down to the foot.
Here are a dozen concepts that can make you a more effective self myofascial massager:
- Be relaxed and warm
- Wear clothes that allow for freedom of movement
- Start with large muscle groups and then move to isolated muscles
- Focus on areas of tension
- Do not go beyond mild discomfort
- Do not massage an area where inflammation or swelling is present
- Do not massage a bony area