How to increase flexibility and release muscle tension with myofascial release
Even if you've never heard of myofascial release you've probably heard of foam rollers, massage balls or trigger point therapy. Myofascial release is a type of massage gaining popularity, especially among athletes, for being able to help with injuries, pain and flexibility. Learning how to self-treat with these techniques can help you perform to your full potential!
Please Note: This advice is not meant to replace treatment by a medical professional, always use caution and common sense, seek additional support if needed.
What is fascia?
Have you ever seen a raw chicken breast? Think of the meat as a muscle, the thin layer of tough, transparent tissue coating it is fascia or myofascia. It is an incredibly strong material that covers every muscle, organ and bone, creating a web throughout our bodies, holding us together and providing stability while allowing movement.
If fascia becomes tight or stiff due to injury, poor posture or stress it can cause restricted movement and pain. These issues don't just affect our ability to perform as athletes but also our daily lives.
Why use myofascial release
Myofascial release uses pressure to relax the fascia and restore it to optimal function. Current research is supportive of self massage techniques to relieve fascial tightness and myofascial release to help with injuries, pain, headaches, postural issues, imbalances, restricted movement and flexibility.
Self myofascial release Using a foam roller or massage ball, you can easily perform myofascial release on yourself. Make sure you a have a nice clear area and a bit of time, you could do it before or after training, when you wake up or before you go to bed or when you're feeling sore/tight.
The two most important things are patience and breathing
Pick an area to work on. We want to release muscles so stay away from bones and especially joints.
NOTE: Never roll your mid back - the space between the bottom of your ribcage and the top of your pelvis. As there are no supportive bone structures here, the back muscles will tighten when rolled in order to protect the spine. If you need to release this area use a massage (or tennis) ball.
Once you have chosen an area, place the roller or ball underneath it. You want to be in a position where you the muscle(s) you are releasing are relaxed, not working to hold you up, and you can slowly lower your body weight onto your massage tool. Now move around slowly, adding or relieving pressure as necessary by using your weight. When you find a spot that is more tight or painful, pause, spend time slowly lowering more weight into the area. This is where patience and breathing become important. Continue to breathe as you take your time with the sore spots - with every breath try to relax the muscle more, spend at least 30 seconds releasing it.
Keep roaming the area and releasing tight spots, ensuring you do the opposite side of the body also, to prevent any asymmetry.
To increase flexibility
Use these techniques briefly before training and spend a longer time with them afterwards, when you are warm. Focusing on the base of the feet, hips, gluteals and base of the skull will help to release tension that could be restricting your movement. After consistent practice, coupled with stretching you should see an improvement in range of motion and short term you may even notice instant increases after release.
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Sharafudeen, Ajimsha & R. Al-Mudahka, Noora & Al-Madzhar, J.A.. (2014). Effectiveness of myofascial release: Systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. 19. . 10.1016/j.jbmt.2014.06.001.
Cheatham, S. W., Kolber, M. J., Cain, M., & Lee, M. (2015). THE EFFECTS OF SELF‐MYOFASCIAL RELEASE USING A FOAM ROLL OR ROLLER MASSAGER ON JOINT RANGE OF MOTION, MUSCLE RECOVERY, AND PERFORMANCE: A SYSTEMATIC REVIEW. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 10(6), 827–838.
Beardsley, Chris et al. (2015) Effects of self-myofascial release: A systematic review. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies , Volume 19 , Issue 4 , 747 - 758