What is Self Myofascial Release (SMR)?

What is “Self Myofascial Release”? What are the benefits of self myofascial release? When should I perform self myofascial release? In this article I will endeavor to explain all these questions and more. Feel free to contact me or leave a comment if you have any questions!

Introduction: What is Self Myofascial Release?

Self Myofascial Release is a self-massage technique where you use a foam roller to apply pressure on a muscular sore spot to release tension and improve muscle performance.

“Myo” means muscle in Greek and “Fascia” refers to the connective tissue that surrounds and connects your muscles. Together, muscle and fascia make up the “myofascia system”. Therefore, self myofascial release is the use of self massage to release the tension in your myofascia system.

Self Myofascial Release is also sometimes known as Self Myofascial Trigger Point Therapy or Self Myofascial Trigger Point Release.

The Myofascia System

Fascia is a connective tissue that surrounds every muscle, bone, nerve, blood vessel and organ in your body. It is made up of collagen fibers tightly packed together in a parallel pattern.

Fascia is everywhere in your body and it links together your muscles, providing support, stability and shape. Fascia resides in a gel-like material, called ground substance, that provides cushioning.

Damage to the Myofascia System

The problem arises when your fascia experiences micro-trauma. Micro-trauma is caused by strenuous exercises like strength training. It can also be caused by daily activities (carrying heavy things, poor posture, etc). For example, if you over-exert yourself in the gym, it will cause physical stress to your muscles and fascia, resulting in trauma. Below are the negative effects of micro-trauma:

  1. Your body’s protective mechanism will cause the fascia tissue to become tougher, denser, tighter, and less flexible.
  2. There will be micro-tears in the fascia, and if these tears don’t heal properly, the fascia tissue will become “stuck” together. This is known as an “adhesion”.
  3. Finally, remember that fascia resides in ground substance? The trauma will also cause ground substance to solidify and become a lot less elastic.

These damaged areas in your muscle/fascia are known as “Restricted Tissue Barriers”. So what happens as a result of all this damage to fascia?

Impact of Damage on your Body

Remember that fascia is a ubiquitous tissue that is connected to your muscles. Therefore, as it becomes tighter and develop adhesions, it will restrict movement of the underlying muscles, resulting in reduced flexibility, reduced range of motion, and discomfort.

In addition, it can also pull your bones/joints slightly out of their normal positions, resulting in pain and/or dysfunction.

Last but not least, the fascia adhesions can also trap/restrict your nerves and blood vessels, resulting in reduced neuromuscular (connection between brain and muscle) efficiency and ischaemic (reduction in blood supply) issues. You will also experience significant pain due to the fascia adhesions trapping/restricting your nerves (nerves are very sensitive structures).

All the damage described above will cause chronic discomfort, tightness, soreness and pain, and affect your daily functioning adversely.

How Self Myofascial Release Works

So how does self myofascial release work to resolve the damage done to your myofascia system? The basic concept is pretty simple actually. When you use a foam roller to put pressure on the sore spots (aka the restricted tissue barriers), the tension in these sore spots will slowly be released, and your body will gradually be restored to its normal healthy state.

Here’s a more detailed explanation (feel free to skip this paragraph if you want): The sustained pressure breaks down scar tissue and adhesions in your fascia, resulting in softer, more flexible, and elongated fascia tissue. Consequently, this improves your muscle flexibility and movement, and restores bones/joints to their proper alignments. It also takes pressure off your nerves and blood vessels that were trapped by adhesions, hence relieving pain and improving blood circulation to the soft tissues.

In other words, you feel a lot better!

When to do Self Myofascial Release

Self Myofascial Release can be performed as part of your warm-up routine. By releasing tension in problematic muscle areas, you will improve muscle flexibility, performance and range of motion. This will make your workouts more efficient and reduce the risk of injury. It can also be done post-workout as an effective soft tissue therapy for restoring your muscles to their optimal healthy state.

Benefits of Self Myofascial Release

As mentioned earlier, self myofascial release improves muscle flexibility and movement, and restores bones to their proper alignments. It also takes pressure off nerves and blood vessels restricted by adhesions, therefore relieving pain and improving blood circulation.

Myofascial release techniques have also been found to improve pain and quality of life in patients with fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is a chronic syndrome characterized by generalized pain, joint rigidity, intense fatigue, sleep alterations, headache, spastic colon, anxiety, and depression.

Conclusion

I hope you have a clearer idea of self myofascial release now. You can learn about self myofascial techniques here. When performed correctly, myofascial release is a very effective soft tissue therapy that can significantly improve your soft tissue and bone conditions. Good luck with releasing those restrictive fascia barriers (aka sore spots)!

References

Barnes, M. F. (1997). The basic science of myofascial release: morphologic change in connective tissue. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 1(4), 231-238.

Castro-Sánchez, A. M., Matarán-Peñarrocha, G. A., Granero-Molina, J., Aguilera-Manrique, G., Quesada-Rubio, J. M., & Moreno-Lorenzo, C. (2010). Benefits of massage-myofascial release therapy on pain, anxiety, quality of sleep, depression, and quality of life in patients with fibromyalgia. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2011.

MacDonald, G. Z., Penney, M. D., Mullaley, M. E., Cuconato, A. L., Drake, C. D., Behm, D. G., & Button, D. C. (2013). An Acute Bout of Self-Myofascial Release Increases Range of Motion Without a Subsequent Decrease in Muscle Activation or Force. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 27(3), 812-821.

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One Response to What is Self Myofascial Release (SMR)?

  1. Cassi says:

    Self myofascial release is painful when you first work an area but the after effects are heavenly! A PT did this a few years ago to find and start working out the leg pain I’d had for ages. Doing self myofascial release during the Neural Reboot portion of Tai Cheng this spring/summer worked out the rest. That pain I had is virtually gone now!

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