Self Myofascial Release (SMR)
SMR is a simple, inexpensive and effective way to maintain muscle length, reduce muscle soreness and increase circulation. There are a variety of devices ranging from a variety of foam rollers, grid rollers, lacrosse balls etc. As a matter of convenience, even though it would be highly advantageous to take your chosen therapist to an event wherever it may be, such devices as the ones mentioned are portable and can easily be taken on a flight, without a substantial weight penalty. SMR require a certain level of competence by the individual but if taught properly then it is an invaluable tool to self manage issue’s surrounding flexibility and fatigue.
Foam rollers, come in many different densities and the average foam roller are cylindrical in shape. Then there are the grid roller, as recommended by myself, is firmer and more effective in clinical or home scenarios. Level of discomfort may be elevated compared to the other foam rollers, however the effectiveness may be perceived to be more beneficial.
How to use a foam roller
- Identify the target muscle
- Situate the foam roller toward the distal, furthest, point of the muscle
- Slowly roll towards the proximal, nearest, point
- At a tender spot sustain the pressure for approximately 10-20 seconds or until the discomfort has subsided.
- Always foam roller towards the heart, with the exception being the back muscles due to the multi-directional nature of the muscle fibres.
When using the foam roller you may feel general tenderness throughout the muscle, which is just general muscle tightness or fascial tightness. However you may come across a localised area of discomfort or a knot, which may just be focal tenderness, it may refer pain or radiate pain. This is known as a ‘Trigger Point’. As the title suggests, SMR, you are self manipulating fascia and addressing trigger points. The aim is not to endure pain, but a certain level of discomfort which should be followed by reduced discomfort.
Evidence based practice
- SMR can be used for managing the effects of arterial stiffness and increasing vascular function. Arterial stiffness is an aspect of aging and SMR has been shown to reduce arterial stiffness and increased vascular function.
- Holding a tender spot for 10 seconds or more shows to have beneficial response. A study, used the sit and reach test, an indicator of hamstring flexibility and showed an increase of 4.3% increase in range of movement. The same research article also annulled the myth of SMR having a positive affect on strength, however having a positive effect on range of movement. This was also affirmed in separate study whereby by knee ROM was increased but no power increase. In this study 8% increase in ROM was noted when foam rolling for 2 minutes (2 bouts of 1 minute with a 30 second interim break).
- Reaffirmed that there was no positive effect on performance but has a positive effect on reducing the effects of fatigue. This would suggest that SMR, will assist in the management of delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMs). The aspect of managing chronic fatigue was further affirmed that foam rolling using a high density roller, such as a grid roller, every 24 hours post exercise will substantial reduce the effects of DOMs and the associated deficits in movement.
As this blog mentions fascia and trigger points, it would be useful to include in this blog a brief synopsis of what fascia and trigger points are.
A matrix of connective tissue that separates individual muscle, or provides attachment points for muscle. It can be described as a form of cling film that surrounds muscle. Traditionally it was deemed as a bio-feedback mechanism for mechanical tension created by muscle activity or external forces. However recently it has been suggested that it may have contractile properties such as that of smooth muscle. As a result, the fascial matrix affects the dynamic musculoskeletal dynamics with regards to muscle tension and posture.
This refers to a localised area of muscle that is taught and painful to palpate. An identified trigger point may refer, radiate or having an effect and or causing pain elsewhere. Trigger points can occur in muscles, muscle tendon junctions and or fascia. Theory suggests that trigger points occurred in shortened or weaker muscles, which may be caused by poor movement patterns or muscle imbalance.
The National Academy of Sport Medicine has an effective visual diagram which would help elaborate on how trigger points occur.
This leads to the following conclusion that SMR is an effective way for any individual to manage and maintain levels of fatigue, range of movement. As an observation most conditioned individuals are body aware and hence may be able to identify the onset of trigger points earlier and address the formation of trigger points. However this leads to the following issue, if SMR is restoring muscle length and managing fatigue and works by affecting fascia and trigger point then why is the same trigger point re-occurring. It is a personal conclusion, that if such is the case, then corrective exercise, whereby a balanced strength and conditioning program may address the underlying issues. Resulting in reduced incidence of Trigger point from occurring in the first instance.
Caveat. As useful as SMR maybe for treating a variety of ache or pains, it may however be hiding the true issue, which can easily be addressed by consulting a competent Sports Therapist or Physiotherapist.
Watch this space for short videos on “how to” where traditional and active SMR will be demonstrated.
By Jav Asaro
Sports & Rehab Therapist