Even if you’re never heard of self-myofascial release (SMR), it’s likely you’ve heard of some SMR techniques like foam rolling, trigger point release (like laying on lacrosse balls), and deep tissue massage using specialized sticks or other equipment. You may have tried it yourself or perhaps you’ve seen others doing it around the gym. But what is the purpose of SMR and how can it benefit you? This article offers an introduction to SMR with a focus on the specific SMR technique of foam rolling.
What is self-myofascial release?
Self-myofascial release (SMR) consists of self-administered therapy techniques that attempt to reduce tension in the fascia, the flexible connective tissue covering or binding together muscles (1). Having tightness within the fascia is thought to cause restrictions in joint range of motion and blood flow, which can lead to decreased flexibility and mobility. SMR techniques help release this tension through applying pressure to the fascia that stimulates special mechanoreceptors that then signal the central nervous system to relax the muscles in that area (2). Applying this principle, SMR techniques are performed in an effort to reduce pain, improve muscle recovery and circulation, and increase flexibility by relaxing and lengthening muscles.
Why SMR is helpful
It’s widely understood that getting fitter and healthier goes a long way in treating and preventing chronic pain caused by poor joint mobility and over- or underactive muscles. We easily associate fitness with activities like strength training and cardio, but less often acknowledge flexibility training as a critical part of supporting a healthy, strong body. Poor flexibility can lead to restricted range of motion within joints, ultimately causing dysfunctional movement and pain. Utilizing SMR techniques can help increase flexibility, which in turn allows for greater joint mobility, or a greater range of motion without pain. Considering many adults suffer from restricted joint mobility, SMR can be one helpful way to support the development of functional movement patterns. Going well beyond fitness, developing healthy movement patterns and a full range of joint motion is critical for our everyday activities.
One of the most popular SMR techniques is foam rolling. Foam rollers are generally long and cylindrical in shape, often made of foam, plastic, or rubber, and are used to apply pressure to different areas of the body. This pressure is achieved through a variety of positions and movements that utilize a person’s bodyweight. Foam rollers can be used in a rolling motion across muscles, or simply to apply prolonged pressure to knots or trigger points, encouraging them to release and relax.
There are many benefits to using this form of SMR. Foam rolling is safe to use (even several times per week) and is easily accessible for most people. Foam rollers can be found at gyms or purchased online for a relatively small investment. This technique can also be used in the comfort of your home, and is a helpful addition to most fitness routines. Beyond supporting healthy flexibility, one significant benefit of regular foam rolling is the reduction of the effects of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) (2). In other words, regularly foam rolling after your workouts can help you avoid those sore muscles!
When you should avoid using SMR
If you have an injury or chronic pain condition, it’s best to consult a medical professional, like an MD or a physical therapist, before using any SMR techniques. It’s also important to avoid foam rolling if you have bony joints or circulation problems. When using foam rolling or other SMR techniques, it’s critical to pay attention to your body’s response, and if anything elicits pain, it’s best to stop immediately and seek expert advice on how to proceed.
For more information on performing some basic foam rolling maneuvers, talk to your trainer or check out this helpful article from the National Academy of Sports Medicine.
Author Elana Witt is a personal trainer at Hyatt Training. She believes all people possess the ability to get stronger and feel better, no matter where they’re starting from. Through learning correct, functional movements, she wants each of her clients to better understand their body and their capabilities while feeling empowered to achieve their goals. Elana is a NASM certified. Learn more about Elana, or get in touch with her by emailing us at Go@HyattTraining.com.
Hyatt Training is a collective of certified, enthusiastic and innovative personal trainers in Portland, Oregon. To read more holistic health related posts like this one, follow this link.