You see them everywhere – in the gym, the physical therapist’s office, your friend’s apartment. If you’re a runner or athlete, you’re likely to have a variety of them in your home too – massage sticks, foam rollers, lacrosse balls and other self-massage tools.
Many of us use these tools religiously to roll our muscles and achy body parts and lament that it “hurts so good.” But do you know why?
What’s the Fuss about Self-Massage?
This practice of self-massage is actually called self-myofascial release. Myofascia is the connective tissue network that runs through your body. It wraps around your internal organs and muscles and holds it all in place. When this system is healthy, it distributes strain evenly so that you don’t end up excessively loading one part of the body and causing injury.
Think of myofascia like a spider web. If one part of the web is broken or damaged, the web doesn’t fall down. Instead, strain and tension has to be distributed across the web differently to account for the weakened section. In other words, other parts of the web picks up the slack of the weakened section.
The same thing happens in your body. When there is trauma or injury to an area, it can lead to weakness or adhesions in your myofascia. This may limit your range of motion and can even compress your muscles and nerves, leading to less hydration and blood flow to those areas. This can lead to pain and/or injury and can impact your performance.
Benefits of Self-Myofascial Release
Self-myofascial release offers so many benefits to everyone, not just athletes. I’m a firm believer in incorporating it regularly into my daily schedule. I do some form of self-massage every day for 10-15 minutes minimum. I roll my muscles pre- and post-workout and often again before bed. And I’ve experienced relief from my IT band pain and plantar fasciitis.
Here are 5 of the main benefits of self-myofascial release:
- Increases blood flow. Research has shown that self-myofascial release can increase vascular function. By getting rid of knots and tension in the fascia that may be restricting fluid flow in the area, self-myofascial release techniques helps to keep your muscles and connective tissue well hydrated. That means that you’ll recover and heal faster.
- Improves muscular range of motion. Studies have also shown that self-myofascial release can increase range of motion without decreasing muscle force or activation. By breaking up the adhesions in the fascia, your muscles and connective tissue can move more freely and you avoid muscle restrictions when you exercise.
- Reduce muscle soreness. With better circulation to your muscles and connective tissues, you’ll experience less muscle soreness.
- Maintains normal functional muscular length. Self-myofascial release relieves tension in the myofascia network and helps your muscles return to their normal length, improving muscle function.
- Encourages movement of your lymph – a major component of your immune system that helps to fight infection int he body. However, the lymph system relies on movement pressure to move the fluid. Self-myofascial release can encourage the flow of lymph back to the heart.
Ultimately, this means that you’ll move better, recover faster, perform better and have less pain so that you can continue to be active and do what you love to do.