Posted on January 19 2018
The term myofascial release was coined in the 1960’s, but it seems as if the value and importance that is placed on it has become more widespread the past 10 years. Keeping muscles mobile and unhindered from tightness has been known for quite some time. It is a very basic principle that has been well understood for a long time. Static and dynamic stretching, hot and cold tubs, and continuing through tight, uncomfortable muscles were some of the ways that were used to take care of muscles the past decade or two, especially when it came to sports. Now it is tough to find a house/gym that doesn’t contain a foam roller or some sort of tool to dig at, and release tight muscles. Myofascial release sounds like a fancy, complicated term, but it is essentially what happens when you get a sports massage. Massages though, can be costly, and many of us do not have the time in the week to be going to get an hour long massage. A lot of athletes, weightlifters, and casual gym goers are turning to self myofascial release. This technique can be achieved through foam rolling, or using hand held tools. Lacrosse balls are commonly used to reach hard to get areas in the back, upper pectoral, glutes, etc. When athletes or any person, works or injures a certain muscle, a scar tissue like substance called adhesions build up on the fascia, taking away from the elasticity and workload the muscle can handle. This reduction in elasticity can be the tight achey feeling your muscles experience when you work a muscle group for the first time in a week or so. The tight feeling can be achieved many ways, but we are all too familiar with the excruciating tightness and DOMS that is experienced whenever we slack off from the gym for a week, then decide to come in and hit it hard like we never took a break.
Fasica can be thought of as a very thin connective tissue that intertwines through our body and covers our muscles. The purpose of myofascial release is to break down the build up of the adhesions, relax the muscle, and bring the fascia back to its normal state, which in turn restores flexibility. This normal state is where the fascia is relaxed, soft, and elastic like. In an abnormal state, the fascia can become tense and lose elasticity. The process of myofascial release can prevent injuries and allows for uninterrupted, routine training. Proper mobility (which should allow for proper form) and flexibility is key to staying uninjured when performing movements in the gym, whether under a workload or not.
What is happening during this release, is a very deep compression/pressure of the tissue. This pressure, usually accompanied by an uncomfortable feeling, breaks down the adhesions that build up on the fascia. (Just a heads up, the uncomfortable feeling that I am referring to is flat out painful sometimes, especially when neglected areas are targeted.) Calves, quadratus lumborum, IT bands, and many more muscles are usually where the most pain is experienced when I use a roller, but each person has their hotspots and problematic areas. After the deep compression and break up of the adhesions covering the fascia, normal blood flow is restored to the muscles, and that means healing. Blood flow is crucial to recovery and is the basis for almost every single recovery treatment, such as hot and cold tubs. This restoration is by no means immediate, and there is definitely an achey feeling that occurs post myofascial release, but the recovery time is shortened drastically. Some people experience an overall sense of well-being after a stretching, or fascial release session. This feeling happens when stress induced cortisol levels lower due to the release of tension and the return of your muscles to their normal state.
The International Journal of Sports and Physical Therapy ran a study on self myofascial release and found that it had positive, short term affects on increased joint range of motion. The study also showed that using rollers and myofascial release techniques for a short time prior to training did not negatively effect muscle performance during activity. There is a fine line between priming the muscles before workouts and rolling for an hour before squats. One idea is great, the other is detrimental. The self myofascial release was also shown to possibly decrease delayed onset muscle soreness.
The use of myofascial release should not be limited to just athletes, bodybuilders, the normal gym goer. Everybody can benefit from implementing this technique on a weekly basis. Manual laborers, people who sit at a desk all day, mom’s who experience aches and pains, and many more people experience symptoms of tight muscles that need worked on. Headaches, muscle pain/spasms, chronic back/neck pain, recurring injuries, and sciatica are just some of the many symptoms that Americans experience that can be traced back to a lack of fascia elasticity and proper mobility. There are definitely many instances where these symptoms are caused by something else, but trying these release techniques are definitely a better first option than OTC pills. If you are someone who is constantly in the gym, always beating your body up through manual labor, or any other case it may be, implementing this technique is crucial. Foam rollers, lacrosse balls, or a rolling tool won’t set you back much at all. Don’t let tight, sore muscles keep you out of the gym any longer than you need to be.