Myofascial release helps to relax contracted and tight muscles, improve blood flow to the area and increase the muscles ability to stretch. The fascia is a type of connective tissue that is quite thin and elastic. This substance wraps around many structures in our bodies including muscle. Fascia helps to support and protect these structures. During trauma, overuse injuries, infections and other diseases or conditions, fascia can often become damaged and restricted. Myofascial release (MFR) is used as a broad term for treating muscles, however, types of tissue other than fascia are targeted as well i.e. connective tissue and fibers within the muscle itself.
A recent study from Ajimsha et al June 2014, carried out by physiotherapists working at the Myofascial Therapy and Research Foundation in Kerala, India and later reviewed by The International Journal of Osteopathic Medicine in Septemeber 2014, showed myofascial release for painful plantar heel pain was more effective than a control intervention for heel pain. The control group in this study received no myofascial release therapy and instead received sham ultrasound therapy (inactive ultrasound). The researchers found that patients in the MFR and control groups reported a 72.4% and 7.4% reduction, respectively, in their pain and functional disability in week 4 compared with that in week 1, which persisted as 60.6% in the follow-up at week 12 in the MFR group compared to the baseline. Proving the benefit for myofascial release in treating painful soft tissue conditions.
Previous studies have also shown the benefit of myofascial release on the calf muscles and iliotibial band (IT band) in combination with a stretching protocol (see my prior post). A particularly easy and fun way to perform Self-Myofascial Release (MFR) is using devices like a foam roller. You can purchase a foam roller at your local sporting goods store or online. If you belong to a gym they usually have a few on hand.
Foam Rolling Tips:
-Foam rolling should be performed slowly. A general rule is to move the foam roller approximately one inch per second over the muscle(s).
-Apply a moderate amount of pressure to the muscle group you are working on. If the pressure is too light you will not feel the benefit, if too hard, it will likely cause a great amount of pain and you will wind up quitting before you are ahead!
-You want to feel a slight amount of discomfort. When you get to an area that is very painful you likely found yourself a muscle trigger point (aka a knot).
-If you find a trigger point, stop rolling and pause for 10-30 seconds at that spot using the foam roller to lightly rock back and forth or side to side.
-You should notice that the knot or trigger point will release after 10-30 seconds. If it does not come back to this point later on
Note: The above tips hold true as well for using other rolling devices on muscles and soft tissue.
How to Foam Roll For The Calves:
2. Lift hips off the ground using your arms and slowly roll the entire calf muscle from bottom to top ending just below your knee. Do one leg at a time. You may use the other leg for increased pressure by crossing it over the leg you are working.
3. When you hit a trigger point area stop and roll for 10-30 seconds as stated above. Continue on and switch to other leg.
Perform this and other exercises for about 3-5 minutes per muscle group or until you feel you have received maximum benefits. There are other types of rollers including the trigger point Grid roller and The Stick. Click here for the link to A Guide for the Foam Roller by The Sports Medicine Institute. Enjoy!