What the hell is myofascial release? And should I be doing it…

Myofascial release changed my life.

 

I now can’t go more than a couple of days without lying on a ball, rolling on a piece of foam, or sticking some kind of object, somewhat painfully, into an awkward area of my body. And no, get your mind out the gutter, that is not what I am talking about...

 

So, what the hell is myofascial release? I hear you ask...

 

If you have been to a gym in the last 5 years, you would have seen someone doing it. You might have done it yourself inadvertently. You might have even done it yourself on purpose, but had no idea what you were actually doing (don’t worry, I was one of those people too … and I’m a self confessed fitness junkie).

 

Myofascial release, or SMR as it is often called (standing for Self Myofascial Release), is the act of physically manipulating the soft tissue of the body in attempt to release tension from the fascia. Other common names are trigger release, trigger point and myofascial therapy - all of these terms relate to the physical techniques aimed at relieving tension in your fascial network caused by trauma, posture, or inflammation.

 

Well that’s great, but what the $@&# is fascia????

 

Fascia is a three-dimensional web of fibrous connective tissue, mostly collagen, that attaches, stabilizes, encloses, and separates muscles and internal organs. It is a head-to-toe, inside-to-out, all encompassing, interwoven system primarily focussed upon protecting your body from trauma. Fascia also plays important supportive roles for our musculoskeletal system enabling us to crawl, walk, jump, run, move from sitting to standing … are you starting to understand how important this tissue is to your body??

 

Now I don’t want to bore or lose you here, so I won’t go any further into explaining fascia ... but if you want to read more about fascia and the vital roles it plays for your body, check out this article. And this one. And this one. And then do some more of your own research. It’s a fascinating field that encompasses all manner of health and movement issues.

 

So, back to releasing your fascia…

 

Our nerves and muscles are enveloped and penetrated by fascia, which allows them to glide smoothly against each other… that is, unless you have fascial adhesions and distortions (and trust me, you do). These are commonly caused by small muscle strains, acute injuries, poor biomechanics, postural issues, the list goes on. These fascial adhesions/distortions can cause poor blood flow, weaker nerve impulses, limited flexibility and range of motion, and a host of other physical ailments. And how do we fix them??

 

Yep. You guessed it. We release them.

 

Now, there is an ever increasing list of tools and techniques used for myofascial release, ones that I have never even heard of or come across I am sure. But here are some of the more widely used ones...

 

Common tools:

  • Trigger ball
  • Foam roller
  • Massage stick
  • Voodoo band
  • Theracane
  • … and a million other weird and wonderful looking devices (I’m serious ... really weird … check out this one … Fitness equipment or sex dungeon tool???)

 

Common techniques:

  • Trigger releases
  • Flossing
  • Pressure wave
  • Tack and stretch
  • Massage!!

 

Yes, you heard me, the common massage has elements of myofascial release, and some types of massage are solely focussed upon myofascial release and practiced by specially trained masseuses. However, just like most SMR techniques… these kind of massages can be pretty painful, but definitely worth it in the long run.

 

So, should I be doing it?

 

The short answer, yes.

 

The long answer, yes, followed by a whole lot of scientific mumbo jumbo and an in depth analysis and demonstration of each and every one of the techniques available to you.

 

My point here?

 

Whether self or professionally administered, myofascial release is a commonly misunderstood, often poorly practiced art form, that has really only achieved a mainstream following over the last couple of decades. To really dig deep into its benefits, techniques and potential complications would take years of studying, and even then you might not fully understand it, let alone get it right for your body! Why? Because the jury is still out on a lot of myofascial release techniques, and there are definitely conflicting views on what definitely works, what definitely doesn’t work, and what might actually be causing you more harm than good!

 

But that definitely doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it!!

 

My suggestion would be to go and visit a fitness professional that understands this topic, and get them to show you some popular methods for specific areas of tension. They should be able to tell this just from assessing your posture and watching you move. (Here’s a sneaky hint - most fitness pro’s will give you one complimentary session to try and attract you as regular business … so go get your free session! … but you didn’t hear it from me).

 

Failing that, do your research, understand what you are trying to achieve, and then perhaps select one tool (say a trigger ball), select one method (maybe trigger point release, sustained pressure) and choose a problem area of your body and subsequently your body’s fascial network (common sites would be around your shoulders and hips) … and give it a crack!

 

Just remember … it is going to feel uncomfortable! A common phrase used for myofascial release is ‘chase the pain’ - and whilst you don’t want to be at a biting-your-lip-to-stop-from-screaming level, you definitely want to find areas of your body that are full of tension, and therefore likely to give you pain when applied with pressure. This is a good thing! And the pain will reduce over time. Myofascial release has both an acute effect (meaning you feel better after a short time, almost instantly) and a chronic effect (meaning with continued use, you will feel better over a long period of time).

 

And I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, maybe it’s some sort of sadomasochism thinly veiled by the pursuit of a more functional body … but you might just get addicted to that feeling …  somewhere on the borderline of pleasure and pain.

 

But I do I know one thing, you will definitely get addicted to the feeling that your body has after the release. Free from pain. Free from movement restriction. Free from lethargy.

 

Welcome to the world of myofascial release. I’m sure you’ll stay a while.


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