Self-Myofascial Release: What it is and Why You Should Start Doing it

In the last couple of years, athletes and sports medicine professionals have started talking a lot about the benefits of self-myofascial release, also known as SMR.

If you’ve wanted to know more about this new trend in the health and wellness world, keep reading and learn what SMR is, how it works, its benefits, and how you can do it properly.

What is Self-Myofascial Release?

According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), self-myofascial release involves uses tools like massage rollers to help repair the injuries that poor posture, improper movement patterns, and repetitive motions have on the body’s nerves and fascia (the tissue that encloses muscles and organs).

When you’re injured, you develop soft tissue adhesions. These adhesions can reduce the elasticity of our soft tissues, and, if they’re not taken care of, they can cause permanent changes to the tissue structure.

Luckily, proper SMR techniques can restore ideal muscle function and motion.

Benefits of SMR

How exactly SMR help heal the body and improve range of motion? SMR comes with the following benefits:

  • Increased blood flow: SMR increases vascular function by eliminating knots and tension in the fascia that restrict blood flow. When blood flow is increased, recovery occurs faster and soreness is reduced because the muscles and connective tissues are well-hydrated.

  • Improved range of motion: When soft tissue adhesions in the fascia are broken up, the muscles and connective tissues can move more freely.

  • Improved lymphatic system function: SMR also promotes the healthy movement of lymph, a component of the immune system that helps fight off infections.

SMR Tools

You can perform SMR with a variety of massage rollers, including the following:

  • Foam rollers: These are the most common types of SMR tools. They come in a variety of sizes, textures, and some even change temperature.

  • Massage sticks: These are thin rods that contain several individually rotating spindles. They allow you to get a more targeted massage when working on smaller muscle groups.

  • Roller balls: Roller balls are usually about the size of a tennis ball and can be either smooth or textured. They’re great for hard-to-reach areas like the upper back and shoulders.

SMR Techniques

Proper technique is crucial for SMR, otherwise you won’t reap all the benefits and could even make your injuries worse.

The Basics

Some general safety tips that everyone should follow include:

  • Limit SMR to 30-90 seconds per muscle groups. Otherwise, you could be putting too much pressure on the fascia.

  • You shouldn’t spend too much time on one area. But, you also shouldn’t roll too quickly over it. By doing this, you’re missing out on the benefits of SMR since you’re not giving your muscles time to loosen up.

  • Start with a soft, even-surfaced roller before working up to a textured one. These can be too intense for those who are new to SMR.

  • Focus on the muscles surrounding around painful areas, rather than the area itself. This is especially true for low back pain. Rather than rolling the low back itself (which can be dangerous), focus on the muscles around it like the glutes and hamstrings.

  • SMR can be highly effective at preventing injury when performed before a workout.

Areas to Focus on

These are some of the most common areas to focus on while foam rolling:

Piriformis

The piriformis muscle is located in the glutes. To roll it out, sit on the massage roller with one foot crossed over the opposite knee. Roll back and forth over the glutes, pulling the knee closer to the opposite shoulder if more of a stretch is necessary.

Hamstrings

Sit with your hamstrings on the roller and your hands behind you. Press down into your hands and roll back and forth, moving the roller from the top of the knee to the top of the thigh.

Quadriceps

Lie in a prone position with the quads on the roller. Keep your core drawn in and your glutes tight to avoid hurting your lower pack. Roll from the pelvic bone to the top of the knee.

Adductors

To roll out the adductors (inner thighs), lie in a prone position with the groin area on the roller. Slowly roll from the top of the knee toward the pelvic area.

Latissimus

Lie on your side with one arm outstretched and your thumb pointed up. Place the roller under the armpit and apply pressure with your body weight. The pressure is usually enough for this particular muscle group, and you don’t need to do much movement.

Rhomboids

Lie with your rhomboids (upper back) on the roller and cross your arms so your hands are resting on the opposite shoulder. Raise your hips to increase pressure on the rhomboids and roll slowly over the mid and upper back. Make sure your head stays in a neutral position to avoid putting strain on the neck.