By James Brusard
The topic of self-massage therapy, otherwise known as self-myofascial release (SMR), is one that has gained attention throughout the health and fitness industry in recent years. Countless healthcare professionals emphasize the use of tools such as foam rollers as a means of increasing soft tissue health that should be regarded equal importance to total health as proper sleep patterns and nutritional habits.1 The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) recommends foam rolling target areas for 30-90 seconds for both muscle recovery and movement preparation.2 If foam rolling is not currently a part of your daily fitness routine, here are four key reasons to think twice about your pre and post-workout ritual:
- Increased elasticity of muscle tissues: To better understand how to tackle soft tissue therapy we must first understand the anatomy of a muscle beginning with fascia. Fascia is a thin sheath of tissue that surrounds our muscles from the bottom of our feet up through the top of the skull. Healthy fascia has a two-directional lattice arrangement. With age and physiological stress this lattice configuration develops adhesions (i.e. trigger points or knots) throughout our fascial networks.3 These adhesions detract from the elastic property of muscle that is necessary for stretch/shortening cycles responsible for movement. Myofascial release works to break down these adhesions to restore a more uniform fascial design, and preserve mobility.1
- Promotes blood flow and circulation of tissues: At rest, the circulation of blood shifts away from the muscles primarily towards various organs to aid in processes like digestion and other metabolic functions. Foam rolling prior to exercise aims to promote circulation through localized compression of tissues resulting in stimulation of blood flow and delivery of oxygen to the muscles. The sensations experienced during soft tissue therapy also act to stimulate the nervous system in response the slight discomfort associated with foam rolling, which also acts to increase blood flow throughout skeletal muscle.
- Correction of muscle imbalances: Just as it is possible to experience unilateral strength imbalances, it equally possible for one segment of the body to have differing mobility from one side of the body to the other. Such imbalances increase the likelihood of overcompensation of more mobile muscle groups, which leads to further dysfunction and opens the door for potential injury. Foam rolling allows us to utilize soft tissue release techniques in a manner that is uniform throughout the body in order to correct notable imbalances.
- Allows for a proactive approach towards post-training recovery: Self-care following rigorous training sessions is an oftentimes overlooked element of recovery. Before you head to the smoothie bar for your post-workout shake, take a few moments to perform SMR techniques on the muscles that were trained during your session. Self-myofascial release is about more than just gritting through a few minutes of foam rolling because research suggests it’s good for you. It is about taking ownership of your training and self-care regimen as we strive to get a little better every day.
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