The musculoskeletal system is a complex network of bones, muscles and joints linked together by a connective tissue called fascia. This thin membrane surrounds every tissue in the body and is highly sensitive to changes in position, with the ability to contract and relax just as our muscles do. Due to the dynamic nature of fascia, it can easily become dense, knotted or matted down without proper care, ultimately restricting muscle movement and limiting range of motion. Preserving the health of our tissues is critical in maintaining an active lifestyle, and can be done in your own home through self-myofascial release.
How Muscles Repair and Rebuild
Intense exercise causes microscopic injuries to muscles and fascia. In order to heal and become stronger, these injuries must go through stages of inflammation, repair and remodeling. During the inflammatory stage, the lymphatic system works to gather and remove toxins and metabolic waste from damaged tissues. Inflammation usually lasts no longer than 36 hours, making way for new tissue (including scar tissue) to be laid down over the injured area. During the repair and remodeling stages, which can take anywhere from two to six weeks, developing fibers become acclimated to the physical demands of the muscle.
Addressing Soft Tissue Restrictions
Repeated stress to muscles and fascia cause adhesions to develop around the area of injury. These adhesions become stiff knots, which are tender to the touch and decrease blood flow to the area. This can eventually slow the body’s rate of repair, since our blood carries vital nutrients and oxygen to facilitate the healing process. Under direct pressure, our fascia relaxes and inhibits nervous system activity, allowing adhesions to be broken up to reduce soreness and improve tissue recovery. Through self-myofascial release (SMR), you can actively restore blood flow and extensibility of your soft tissues.
Mobility Tools for Muscle Recovery
Over time, the adhesions that develop along lines of stress in our muscles and fascia limit the effectiveness of static stretching to soothe sore muscles and increase range of motion. Many gyms stock foam rolls to assist clients in performing SMR, but you can also purchase a few tools to use at home during your downtime. Below are examples of items that are easily stored at home to keep your muscles supple and pain free.
Using a foam roller is an effective form of physical therapy. The roller leverages your body weight to apply direct pressure to tender areas of the muscle. Foam rollers come in varying densities, and allow the user to apply controlled waves of pressure on a muscle to help decrease the overall effects of stress on the body.
The dense composition of the ball make it ideal for targeting knotted muscles with more pressure than can be achieved with a foam roll. This is ideal for the pectoralis minor, deep muscles in the shoulder and glutes, or the often overworked fascia in the feet. A double lacrosse ball can also be used to apply pressure to stiff muscles in the mid and upper back that can inhibit shoulder movement.
Stretching and Resistance Bands
Connective tissue that surrounds our joints can easily get twisted up and throw off the normal movement of our joints, limiting range of motion or possibly causing an impingement syndrome. Stretching and resistance bands are great for general conditioning, rehabilitation and stretching. These thick, elastic bands are durable and great for resistance training while you travel.
A device called The Stick delivers targeted pressure to tender areas to relieve trigger points and enhance muscle recovery. The slim design of The Stick allow you to treat areas of the body that are difficult to reach with a foam roller, such as the muscles in the lower leg or high hip. The Stick can vary in lengths and flexibility, and can easily accommodate those who prefer a light or deeper massage.
Using Exercise to Stimulate Repair
As noted above, the lymphatic system aids in removing metabolic waste from damaged tissues. This network of vessels and lymph nodes are stimulated by muscle contractions, making purposeful exercise a prerequisite for muscle recovery. Even if you are feeling sore, mild physical activity can help facilitate the repair process in your body by increasing blood flow and muscle activity. Participating in low impact activities like walking, yoga or tai chi, can help you stay active without causing further damage to your muscles or overloading newly remodeled tissues.
Sarah Dalton is the founder of Able Mind Able Body, a Las Vegas based company offering motivational lifestyle coaching and personal training services. She takes a holistic approach to healthy living, and educates others on the benefits of nutrition, exercise, and emotional health. Visit www.ablemindablebody.com for more info.