Have you ever come home from work feeling stiff and sore after a stressful day at the office? Who hasn’t occasionally finished a workout with joint pain or other soft-tissue discomforts? As an athlete and fitness enthusiast, regardless of skill level, you are vulnerable to overexertion, a condition that causes acute pain. Jobs all across the United States require employees to perform repetitive functions hundreds of times a day, which can lead to chronic pain due to a musculoskeletal injury. With all the demands we put on our bodies at work, in the gym, and at home, it seems inevitable that we could suffer damage to the muscle, connective tissue and joints. At some point, the pain is substantial enough to trigger a visit to the doctor’s office or physical therapy clinic.
Once you’re at the clinic, the therapist performs something that sounds a little strange at first- myofascial release. This form of therapy is a minimally-invasive hands-on treatment that uses manual manipulation to release tension in the fascia due to inflammation or trauma. With the session complete, off you go, wondering what’s next? What will you do once you leave the clinic? Hopefully, your therapist took the time to answer those questions for you, but if not, HipFit’ s got your answer right here with the self-myofascial release (SMR). Before we jump into what those are…let’s review what fascia and myofascial is.
Fascinating Fascia Facts
Bear with us, this gets a little technical and there’s a test at the end so pay close attention. (Just kidding about the test.) Fascia is the thin sheath of connective tissue that covers muscles and organs in the human body. Healthy fascia surrounds and supports all of the structures in your body, stretching and moving without restriction. When functioning properly, it connects muscle groups, and when it’s damaged it causes pain and limited range of motion. MFR Treatment Center likens it to a spider’s web or densely woven sweater that covers and penetrates every muscle, bone, artery, vein and all internal organs, including our spinal cord and brain. Interestingly, fascia is one continuous structure that exists from head to toe, uninterrupted, and without segmentation. Like the silk of a delicate spider web or the yarn of a sweater, fascia connects all parts of the body together. Inflammation, physical trauma, and scarring cause the fascia and myofascial to become less pliable, resulting in tightness, restriction and a painful source of tension in the body. Acute events such as falls, car accidents and surgery cause fascial trauma. Even chronic conditions such as poor posture and repetitive stress have negative cumulative effects on the fascia. In all cases, the restrictions affect flexibility, alignment and stability often making daily activity uncomfortable or painful.
Do It Yourself Solution
At HipFit, we’re all about providing solutions that you can perform anywhere, anytime, in short bursts. Self-myofascial release is a minimally invasive therapy that you perform on yourself. It manipulates, stretches and loosens the fascia connecting the major muscle groups of your body. It is widely used as a tool to feel good and prevent injury from ever occurring in the first place and -in many cases- is also a viable alternative to surgery. When surgery is required, self- myofascial release is often performed post-surgery to help with the rehab process.
When you are doing it right, self-myofascial therapy stretches and loosens the fascia so the underlying tissue can move freely. Tight fascia can pull the body out of alignment and increase pressure on muscles and joints, causing pain. Self-myofascial release techniques manipulate the fascia connecting the major muscle groups of your body. The therapy elongates muscle and connective tissue and stretches the fascia, better preparing the muscles for exertion and reducing the likelihood of injury.
What’s In It For Me
There are substantial benefits to the less-invasive hands-on self-myofascial release techniques, aside from relief of sky-high medical bills. Sessions are performed when and where they’re most convenient for you. It promotes independence and you quickly learn about body mechanics, strength and flexibility. There’s no need for creams, oils, medical equipment or intervention. Athletes who perform self-myofascial release on themselves experience reduced post-workout soreness, and less-severe delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Patients with acute or chronic pain report a notable increase in the range of motion and mobility. Studies suggest myofascial therapy may improve vascular function and nervous system improvement.
Tools Of The Trade
You’re going to love this; there’s no need for high-tech, complicated and costly medical devices. Athletes, fitness enthusiasts and occupational therapists regularly use standard high-density foam rollers, massage sticks, trigger point wands and even a simple lacrosse ball to perform self-myofascial release before significant activity. These typically require minimal instruction and just a little practice to learn how to use them effectively.
Massage Stick: The lightweight, long and narrow profile of these massage rollers make them perfect for self-massage, pre and post-workout, and at-home recovery. The stick design helps to massage and lengthen muscle and fascia of areas like the hamstrings, quads, neck and calf. The opposing handles allow you to apply moderate pressure to both ends of the roller simultaneously.
High Density Foam Rollers: Sounds soft and squishy, doesn’t it? Don’t kid yourself, you’ll likely feel mild discomfort when you’re using it right. When the foam roller is used for myofascial therapy, you’ll rely on very small, subtle movement and your own body weight to provide myofascial release. You’ll essentially rest the part of your body that feels tight on top of the foam roller and hold the position for 30 seconds before rolling back and forth for 15 seconds, then moving on to the next spot. Remember, you may feel temporary discomfort but not pain- this means the therapy is working.
Lacrosse Ball: The use of sports balls in self-myofascial release is very common. Tennis balls are soft, pliable and forgiving, allowing for the most “give” when applying to sore muscles. Baseballs are on the other end of the spectrum, providing a firm foundation for the therapy. Somewhere in the middle, the common lacrosse ball provides firmness with a little bit of give. The lacrosse ball works well for relief to knee, shoulder and back pain. The key to using a lacrosse ball is to remember to use only moderate pressure and only apply the pressure for 30 seconds.
Trigger Point Wand:
When was the last time you really, really wanted that neck or back massage and there was nobody around to help you out? Well, here you go. The trigger point massage tool lets you do it yourself. Just find the area where your body holds tension and apply the therapy knob directly on top of that pain point. Apply pressure for up to 30 seconds or until you feel the muscle release. Sometimes it helps to rock the knob back and forth.
Whether you are treating an acute injury, chronic pain, preparing your body for an endurance sport, or looking for post-workout relief, self-myofascial release is a non-invasive alternative to costly, aggressive medical intervention. The low-tech, low-cost methods are easy to learn and don’t take long to perform on aching, tight muscles. Perform these on yourself at a time and place that is most convenient for you. Any discomfort you feel is temporary and acts as an indicator that the therapy is being applied correctly.