Self-Myofascial Release (SMR), commonly known as foam rolling or self-massage, is a term that describes soft tissue techniques used to improve the elasticity of the fascial matrix running through our bodies with the intent of increasing mobility and restoring authentic pain-free movement. A secondary benefit of SMR is its ability to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness after a workout. There are many ways to perform SMR, but the most common is rolling across the targeted area with a foam roller or another firm object.
What is fascia?
In the simplest terms, fascia is a membrane-like tissue that surrounds and penetrates muscles, bones, organs, and all other structures of the body. This web of fascia runs continuously from the tip of the toes to the top of the head. But, it is now known that fascia plays a much larger role in our bodies than simply connecting and separating structures. Fascia’s continues web of tissue allows the force of a muscle contracting to be transferred throughout the entire body. This is most easily seen in the thick thoracolumbar fascia located on the lower back. This sheet of fascia allows transfer of energy between our upper and lower bodies, which is crucial for virtually all human movement. Fascia also contains mechanoreceptors, which sense body position and pressure. These receptors send feedback to the central nervous system allowing the body to make the appropriate adjustments .
How does SMR work?
The exact mechanism of how SMR works is still unknown. Early thinking, describes a mechanical model in which the fascial tissue is actually “torn” or “broken up” from the muscle, allowing the muscle fibers to slide more easily, creating greater joint range of motion. Due to lack of practicality, this model is quickly being replaced by a more systemic model .
The neurophysiological model looks at the fascia’s mechanoreceptors and the body’s central nervous system as a whole. The belief is that the external pressure of a foam roller activates mechanoreceptors within the fascia, causing reduced activation of the muscle’s motor units, via the central nervous system - the result is a muscle with reduced tone or muscle stiffness . In other words, the body squeezes the hose that supplies the muscle with power, allowing overactive motor units to relax, resulting in a more flexible muscle.
A third theory suggests that SMR rehydrates areas of the fascia that have become “stuck.” Because 2/3 of the fascia is made up of water, the thinking is the external pressure of SMR moves water around, allowing dry tissue to regain its elastic properties.
Whatever the exact cause(s) of myofascial release, there is little doubt that SMR is beneficial for virtually everyone.
Self-Myofascial Release YouTube Playlist
Self-Myofascial Release Research
1. Beardsley, Chris. “Does foam rolling and self-myofascial release really work?” www.strengthandconditioningresearch.com. 1 Jan. 2013. Web. 8 Feb. 2015. <http://www.strengthandconditioningresearch.com/2013/10/01/foam-rolling/>.