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Foam rolling is a self-myofascial release (SMR) stretching technique that has been embraced throughout the fitness industry. This effective and simple to do technique delivers positive, feel good results. Foam rollers have become easily accessible, either shared at the gym or found in almost any sporting goods aisle to bring home for a minimal investment.
THE SCIENTIFIC TERMS AND EXPLENATION: WHY USE MYOFASCIAL RELEASE?
SMR can be done with a variety of tools beyond foam rollers, such as medicine balls, handheld rollers or other assistive devices. Foam rollers vary in density, surface structure, and even temperature modifications. Whatever the tool or variation selected, SMR focuses on the neural and fascial systems in the body that can be negatively influenced by poor posture, repetitive motions, or dysfunctional movements.
These mechanically stressful actions are recognized as an injury by the body, initiating a repair process called the Cumulative Injury Cycle (Figure 1). This cycle follows a path of inflammation, muscle spasm, and the development of soft tissue adhesions that can lead to altered neuromuscular control and muscle imbalance.
The adhesions reduce the elasticity of the soft tissues and can eventually cause a permanent change in the soft tissue structure, referred to as Davis’s Law. SMR focuses on alleviating these adhesions (also known as “trigger points” or “knots”) to restore optimal muscle motion and function.
SMR is based on the principal of autogenic inhibition. Skeletal muscle tissue contains muscle spindles and Golgi tendon organs (GTO), two neural receptors. Muscle spindles are sensory receptors running parallel to muscle fibers, sensitive to a change and rate of muscle lengthening. When stimulated, they will cause a myotatic stretch reflex that causes the muscle to contract.
The GTO receptors, located in the musculotendinous junctions, are stimulated by a change and rate of tension, and when they are stimulated will cause the muscle to relax. When a change in tension is sustained at an adequate intensity and duration, muscle spindle activity is inhibited causing a decrease in trigger point activity, accompanied by a reduction of pain.
In simpler terms, when the pressure of the body against the foam roller is sustained on the trigger point, the GTO will “turn off” the muscle spindle activity allowing the muscle fibers to stretch, unknot, and realign.
Davis’s Law: Soft tissue models along lines of stress.
Autogenic Inhibition: The process by which neural impulses that sense tension are greater than the impulses that cause muscles to contract, providing an inhibitory effect to the muscle spindles.
Benefits of Foam Rolling
In addition to releasing these adhesions, SMR also has some general benefits for our bodies:
aids in preventing injuries
gets rid of knots and tightness in your muscles
physically de-stresses your body so it can work more efficiently
increases blood flow, which helps for faster recovery from workouts
reduces soreness from workouts
Roll on the foam roller/ball until you feel a “trigger point” or “hot spot.” You’ll know you found one when it hurts. When you find a trigger point, stop and just rest on the foam roller for 30 to 60 seconds. Contrary to popular belief, it’s the pressure, not the rolling, that smooths fascia.
Avoid applying pressure on bones and joints. Just muscle.
Combine an abbreviated SMR with your regular warm-up on workout days. I like to focus on the spots that I have the most trouble with. Use one of your rest days to devote 30 to 45 minutes to SMR for your whole body.
Drink plenty of water after an intense SMR session