Hurts So Good: What is Self Myofascial Release
Foam rolling is often used interchangeably to my self myofascial relate (SMR) but it is in fact a form of self-myofascial release. SMR is where pressure is applied to certain body parts to relieve muscle tension and release trigger points. It is a great tool for injury prevention and aides in increasing range of motion.
SMR works by returning your muscles and soft tissue to their native form. Exercise, injury, and the rigours of life can cause knots that restrict mobility and performance. By smashing those ‘knots’ and allowing soft tissue to operate correctly again, foam rolling increases range of motion and improves workout performance.
Why practice Self Myofascial Release?
SMR keeps fascia healthy by circulating fresh, oxygenated blood through soft tissue for better movement and recovery. At Innervate CrossFit foam rolling is a staple in our warmup as foam rolling has been found to significantly increase range of motion. (Check out our how to SMR article, LINK). When combined with static stretching foam rolling if done correctly can lead to increased tissue length, tolerance and elasticity lending to flexibility improvements.
In addition to releasing these adhesions, SMR also has some general benefits for our bodies:
▪ aids in preventing injuries
▪ gets rid of knots and tightness in your muscles
▪ physically de-stresses your body so it can work more efficiently
▪ increases flexibility
▪ increases blood flow, which helps for faster recovery from workouts
▪ reduces soreness from workouts
What is Fascia & Why Is It Important
Fascia is the connective tissue fibres that form sheaths or bands beneath the skin. They are primarily collagen and attach, stabilise, enclose and separate muscles and internal organs.
Fasciae are similar to ligaments and tendons in that they are predominantly collagen. However they differ in their location and function, though. Ligaments join one bone to another bone, while tendons join muscle to bone and fasciae surrounds muscles and other structures.
Fascia forms a whole-body, continuous three-dimensional matrix of structural support around our organs, muscles, joints, bones and nerve fibers. Fascia is directly related to movement, as it helps to support the muscles by transmitting force throughout the body. The fascial arrangement, similar to a spider web, also allows us to move in multiple directions.
But this connective tissue does much more than simply help transmit forces that drive movement. It also helps the nervous system with quick responses, and is a key component in supporting the body during repetitive tasks. A runner will have dense fascia in the calves to support running, a weightlifter may have dense fascia in the back to support weightlifting, and someone who sits alot will have dehydrated and “sticky” fascia in their glutes to support sitting.
What are trigger points and why are they important?
If one part of your body is not performing at its optimal level, other areas of the body will compensate. Eventually, these other areas can be compromised as well. Over time, this leads to injury.
Trigger points are specific “knots” that form in muscles. There are no actual knots involved, of course — it just feels like it. Although their true nature is uncertain, the main theory is that a trigger point (TrP) is a small patch of tightly contracted muscle, an isolated spasm affecting just a tiny patch of muscle tissue (not a whole-muscle spasm but an isolated instance). You may want to picture this as a ‘sick muscle’ syndrome.
They are unique and can be identified because they will refer pain. Pain referral, for our purposes, can most easily be described as the pain felt when pressure is applied to one area of the body, but the pain is felt or radiated in another area.
A common example of a trigger point is felt while rolling your iliotibial (IT) band as it causes pain to radiate up to the hip or all the way down the leg to the ankle. When rolling or working on tight/sore muscles you will experience discomfort or pain. Think of it like the pain you get while stretching. It should be uncomfortable, but not unbearable, and when you are done it should feel better.
Why do we get trigger points?
It is commonly thought that the primary cause of trigger points is ‘muscle overload’. Tension is triggered by both a physical loading of the tissue and an overloading of the neuromuscular control mechanism of the muscle, responsible for taking the electrical impulse of a nerve and transforming it into a biochemical signal that both controls and powers muscular activity.
The body will cope with an abnormal level of tension by laying down Myofascial Trigger Points (MTrPs) in the area. A myofascial trigger point was defined by Dr’s. Travell and Simons as “a hyperirritable spot in skeletal muscle that is associated with a hypersensitive palpable nodule”. It is common for these to form near the neuromuscular junction, where the nerve and muscle meet. In many cases, the surrounding nerves will be affected, and the fascia will thicken, which results in pain and discomfort.
If you’re new to myofascial release, performing the self massage and release can be uncomfortable at first. This is similar to the first time you get a massage therapist to work through the muscles, but as you become more familiar with the process the intensity of referred pain decreases.
For more information do check out our how to do self myofascial release article (link).