Self myofascial release techniques (SMRT), although not new, have become more and more prominent amongst athletes and fitness enthusiasts alike.
Both allopathic and alternative Therapists have embraced the use of myofascial release massage to reduce chronic pain and rehabilitate a range of injuries. Some therapists claim a long list of benefits, from curing tennis elbow to IBS relief. While some claims may be contentious, it seems likely that many sports men and women can benefit from this regenerative therapy.
Its important to understanding two key terms in order to appreciate how self myofascial release technique acts favourably on the body. They are fascia and trigger points. Both are explored below before moving on to some sample self myofascial release exercises.
Fascia is a specialized connective tissue layer surrounding muscles, bones and joints and gives support and protection to the body. It consists of three layers - the superficial fascia, the deep fascia and the subserous fascia. Fascia is one of the 3 types of dense connective tissue (the others being ligaments and tendons) and it extends without interruption from the top of the head to the tip of the toes (1).
Fascia is usually seen as having a passive role in the body, transmitting mechanical tension, which is generated by muscle activity or external forces. Recently, however some evidence suggests that fascia may be able to actively contract in a smooth muscle-like manner and consequently influence musculoskeletal dynamics (2).
Obviously, if this is verified by future research, any changes in the tone or structure of the fascia could have significant implications for athletic movements and performance. This research notwithstanding, the occurrence of trigger points within dense connective tissue sheets is thought to be correlated with subsequent injury.
Trigger points have been defined as areas of muscle that are painful to palpation and are characterized by the presence of taut bands. Tissue can become thick, tough and knoted. They can occur in muscle, the muscle-tendon junctions, bursa, or fat pad (3). Sometimes, trigger points can be accompanied by inflammation and if they remain long enough, what was once healthy fascia is replaced with inelastic scar tissue.
It has been speculated that trigger points may lead to a variety of sports injuries - from camps to more serious muscle and tendon tears. The theory, which seems plausible, is that trigger points compromise the tissue structure in which they are located, placing a greater strain on other tissues that must compensate for its weakness. These in turn can break down and so the spiral continues.
According to many therapists, trigger points in the fascia can restrict or alter the motion about a joint resulting in a change of normal neural feedback to the central nervous system. Eventually, the neuromuscular system becomes less efficient, leading to premature fatigue, chronic pain and injury and less efficient motor skill performance. An athlete's worst nightmare!
What causes a trigger point to form?
The list of proposed causes includes acute physical trauma, poor posture or movement mechanics, over training, inadequate rest between training sessions and possibly even nutritional factors (4,5).
Self myofascial release is a relatively simple technique that athletes can use to alleviate trigger points. Studies have shown myofascial release to be an effective treatment modality for myofascial pain syndrome (6,7,8), although most studies have focused on therapist-based rather than self-based treatment.
For these exercises you will need a foam roll (which is very inexpensive). You can get them from anywhere that sell sports medicine or physical therapy supplies. Online, try www.power-systems.com who sell a variety of foam rolls.
Adductor Self Myofascial Release
Hamstring Self Myofascial Release
Quadriceps Slef Myofascial Release
Iliotibial Band Self Myofascial Release
Upper Back Self Myofascial Release