During the last decade, sports industry has made a huge growth in the field of training equipment. One of the most recognized pieces is definitely a foam roller. However, most fitness enthusiasts and professional athletes who use foam rollers on a daily basis still don’t know the major benefits behind it. Perhaps it is enough for them to say „That’s simply the way I treat my muscles!“. But for all of you who want to know more, especially coaches who work in recreational and professional sports, I would like to share some scientific facts and my own beliefs. Namely, why self myofascial release equipment should be used daily, no matter if your plan is to stay home or work out in the gym.
Treating your muscles through (self) myofascial release
In order to explain what is myofascial release we need to define muscle fascia first. One of the clearest definitions on fascia comes from an expert Thomas Myers who says: „Fascia is allthe collagenous-based soft-tissues in the body, and the cells that create and maintain that network. That definition includes all the tissues traditionally designated as ‘fascia’ in classical anatomy, plus all the other very similar tissues arrayed in different ways around the body; tendons, ligaments, bursae, and all the fascia in and around the muscles – endomysium, perimysium, epimysium.“ Based on Myers explanation we can conclude that fascia deeply affects muscles activation and for that reason human locomotion as well.
Myofascial release is a soft tissue therapy method for treating somatic dysfunctions. It was discovered at the end of 19th century by Andrew Taylor Still, a fonder of osthepathic medicine. Still and his students used to treat soft tissue restrictions by use of different palpatory techniques. It has been found that applied pressure on different muscle and fascia areas results in muscle and fascia (trigger points) relaxation together with stretch reflex stimulation, increased circulation and lymphatic drainage. As science and practice are developing from day to day, physiotherapists are using different tools with a goal to enhance functional movement; starting from their bare hands to specific steel knives, buffalo horns, jades or different balls.
Foam rolling is an activity under the category of self myofascial release: people have to use their own bodyweight together with the foam roller to get the perfect outcome. Even though foam roller covers most of the body surface, I find that foam roller as a tool is not enough for optimal self myofascial treatment. If you are creative enough, there are many different useful pieces of equipment. For example, lacrosse ball and massage stick are equally important because they can cover all the smaller areas (such as peroneal region or upper back and shoulder girdle) that are not well reached and treated by foam rollers.
Evidence – based practice
Not so many studies have been done so far to evaluate the effects of foam roller or any other type of SMR equipment on muscle activation, tension or performance. But, some of the latest research on this topic has confirmed the benefits of foam rolling. Healey et al. (2013) suggest that use of foam roller can be of a great importance on post- exercise fatigue decrease. Futhermore, two studies in 2013 (MacDonald et al. and Sullivan et al.) have found a strong evidence on range of motion improvement without a deficit in muscle performance. I do not doubt that many good studies are yet to come. But until then, we should respect the feedback from our players and clients. So far, it has been great
5 reasons why to perform SMR on a daily basis
When I talk with my athletes or friends I usually use the term „hygiene“ when explaining the aim and importance of SMR. For me, SMR is like brushing teeth or keeping your hands clean. Today most of my athletes have their own foam rollers and tennis/ lacrosse balls, which are always with them either in tournaments or practices. Here are 5 benefits they will have because of it.
1. Increased lymphatic drainage, blood and water circulation
2. Optimisation of muscle tension (improvements in muscle flexibility and joint mobility)
3. Treatment of specific area can have a positive effect on neighboring tissues and organs
4. SMR is a very cheap massage
5. SMR contributes to overall well being