The musculoskeletal system is a complex network of bones, muscles, and joints surrounded by a type of connective tissue called fasciae. A fascia is a thin membrane that surrounds a muscle or organ. Fasciae are highly sensitive to changes in position, and they have the ability to contract and relax just as our muscles do. Due to the dynamic nature of fasciae, they can easily become dense, knotted, or matted down without proper care. This can restrict muscle movement and limit range of motion. Preserving the health of our tissues is critical in maintaining an active lifestyle.
Self-myofascial release (SMR) is an alternative medicine technique that uses props to improve myofascial mobility. After learning the correct technique for using these props, you can perform SMR in your home to aid the health of your tissues. However, SMR is not a substitute for medical treatment. Speak with your doctor before performing SMR.
Intense exercise causes microscopic injuries to muscles and fascia. To heal and become stronger, your muscles go through stages of inflammation, repair, and remodeling. During the inflammatory stage, the lymphatic system gathers and removes toxins and metabolic waste from damaged tissues. Inflammation usually lasts no longer than 36 hours, making way for new tissue (including scar tissue) to cover the injured area. During the repair and remodeling stages, which can take anywhere from two to six weeks, developing fibers adjust to the physical demands of the muscle. This can cause pain and inflammation in the body’s soft tissues. Various factors other than exercise, such as bad posture, stress, accidents, and inactivity, can also cause problems with the fasciae.
Repeated stress to muscles and fasciae causes adhesions to develop around the areas of injury. These adhesions become stiff knots. They feel tender 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 aid the healing process. Fasciae relax under direct pressure, which breaks up knots, reduces soreness, and improves tissue recovery. Self-myofascial release (SMR) can help you actively restore blood flow and movement in your soft tissues.
Adhesions develop over time along lines of stress in our muscles and fasciae. They limit the effectiveness of static stretching to soothe sore muscles and increase range of motion. There are devices that you can use to work on the more common areas of the body that can benefit from myofascial release. These devices are often available at gyms and fitness centers. All can be purchased online or at sporting goods stores.
Using a foam roller is an effective form of physical therapy. The roller uses your body weight to apply direct pressure to tender areas of the muscle. Foam rollers come in varying densities. They allow you to apply controlled waves of pressure to a muscle to help decrease the overall effects of stress on the body.
The dense composition of the ball makes it ideal for targeting knotted muscles. You can apply more pressure with a lacrosse ball than you can with a foam roller. This is ideal for the pectoralis minor, deep muscles in the shoulders and glutes, or the often-overworked fasciae in the feet. You can also use a double lacrosse ball to apply pressure to stiff muscles in the mid and upper back.
Stretching and resistance bands
Connective tissue that surrounds our joints can easily get twisted and throw off the normal movement of our joints, limiting range of motion. Stretching and resistance bands are great for general conditioning, rehabilitation, and flexibility. 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 allows 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 length and flexibility, and can easily accommodate those who prefer a light or deep massage.
Myofascial release has been shown to acutely help reduce muscle pain and dysfunction. Exercise itself is also key to preventing muscle dysfunction. The lymphatic system helps remove metabolic waste from damaged tissues. Muscle contractions stimulate this network of vessels and lymph nodes. Exercise is necessary for muscle recovery. Even if you’re feeling sore, mild physical activity can help the repair process in your body by increasing blood flow and muscle activity. Participating in low-impact activities, such as walking, yoga, or tai chi, can help you stay active without causing further damage to your muscles or overloading newly remodeled tissues.