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Self myofacial release is a technique typically used to increase the flexibility of muscles that have become tight or hypotonic. Occasionally referred to as ‘self myofacial therapy’ (SMT) or simply ‘foam rolling’, this technique primarily focuses on the pliability of the muscle’s connective tissues and the neuromuscular aspects of flexibility. Foam rollers themselves can be found in every gym across the country, with many personal trainers using them every day before and after sessions.
As a result of regular and daily use, tiny knots or ‘adhesions’ form within the muscle which impede the muscle’s flexibility and create tender points along the length of the muscle fibres. These adhesions form within the muscle during the repair and recovery process; primarily made from ‘scar tissue’, adhesions are inelastic and therefore make the muscle less flexible.
Foam rolling techniques are used to locate these adhesions along the muscle’s length. By gently applying and sustaining pressure along the direction in which the muscle’s fibres run, the pliability of the adhesions can be increased and the associated tenderness begins to dissipate. Using one’s own bodyweight to apply the pressure to the target muscle at an application of 20-30 seconds per adhesion is most typical.
Foam rolling techniques need to be applied on a daily basis and over a number of weeks in order for the benefits to be realised in the long-term. Many exercisers will experience instant relief from such techniques, although these sensations are usually only temporary.
The application of pressure to the muscle’s fascia also stimulates the autogenic inhibition which reduces the activity of the muscle spindles and results in a greater relaxation of the muscle. The overriding of this ‘protective’ neuromuscular system is what enables the muscle to be stretched and manipulated beyond what it is able to tolerate under resting conditions, and explains why self myofascial release boasts dramatic improvements in flexibility, especially when combined with stretching activities.Back to articles