Self-Myofascial Release Or: How I learned to stop getting injured and love the foam roller.
That is a movie reference. The best jokes are the ones you have to explain.
Ok team. People generally don’t like foam rolling. (Fancy name: Self-myofascial release or SMR. Fascia = tissue, Self = you're doing the work as opposed to a massage therapist, Release...that's what the rest of the blog is about.)
It kind of hurts, right?!? But it’s crazy important in keeping you healthy and active.
Any ouchies to the tissue of the body cause inflammation. This doesn’t have to be major trauma, it could be as simple as hunching over your computer repeatedly or crunching your foot in the revolving turnstile door (like I did the other day).
Our bodies so freaking cool, folks. When we have inflammation our body actually tries to protect us by creating tension in the muscle and that’s how we get those “knots” or adhesions in our muscles (It’s way more complicated than that but that’s the gist). You might also hear people call those adhesions "trigger points". If we don’t release the adhesions, it can effect our ability to move safely and functionally, which leads to more trauma/injury, which leads to…(drum rooollll)…more adhesions! It’s a vicious cycle, my friend! In fact, when someone tweaks their back (very common), it's usually because they have adhesions some where else, like their calves. And those super tight calves are pulling their torso forward or down, affecting the quality of their movement. Then blam-o(!), tweaked back has them on the couch for days.
Here’s why we foam roll:
External pressure on your muscle tissue actually sends an “inhibitory” message to your brain-parts to override that protective mechanism that create muscles adhesions - stopping that cumulative injury cycle. Put simply, holding pressure on the tender areas of tissue (adhesions) for a sustained period tells them to calm the heck down! Then it’s easier to stretch (lengthen) the muscles that are tight or shortened as a result of being full of knots. Muscles that are the optimal length means optimal movement, which means less risk of injury.
External pressure on muscle tissue also increase vasodilation. This means tissue can receive more oxygen and nutrients and can more easily get rid of waste byproducts. This facilitates tissue recovery and repair and why foam rolling helps with muscle soreness! It also changes the viscosity of tissue to allow for better overall muscle and contraction and joint motion.
To sum it up, we want healthy, functional muscles that work optimally - so we foam roll!
If you’re a newbie you should pick a regular ole cheap softish foam roller, you don’t need one that looks like a torture device. (Massage balls, tennis balls, water bottles - all fabulous stand-ins.)
Think about keeping your head, neck, and spine in alignment while you foam roll. A wise sage once wrote, "Head and shoulders. Knees and Toes. (Knees and Toes.)" Think about those profound words. Also think about engaging your core a bit to keep you stable on the roller.
Roll slooowwwww - about 1 inch second, we want to inhibit, not excite! When you find a tender spot -that's the adhesion, baby- hold the pressure on it for 30 seconds. Breathe. Relax. Keep rolling.
Foam roll before you begin your pre-workout stretch. Research has shown you can foam roll every day too - it’s a great, relaxing activity.
SMR is kind of like meditating. People who do it regularly are super evangelists because they've experienced the positive effects. No one who meditates all the time is like 'eh, I could take it or leave it.' No, you do it -> you experience small positive impacts -> you keep doing it -> you experience more positive impacts -> it becomes an important part of your routine.
It's also similar to meditating in that a lot of people try it and don't keep it up because a) they experience discomfort or b) they don't see or attribute positive effects to it immediately so it becomes deprioritized. Like meditating, there's been a lot of research done and SMR is proven to have positive, healthy effects.
Final similarity - there's a lot of different ways to do it and the BEST WAY is the way that YOU will actually incorporate in your routine.
There's a ton of resources on the interwebs, so find a good routine for you! You can also contact me for a 1-on-1 session where we'll assess the most important muscle groups for YOU to foam roll, and explore some methods you can use. I also teach SMR classes from time to time, see what's coming up!
Talk to your doc before you practice SMR if you have a medical condition!