Self Myofascial Release (SMR; Foam Rolling)

By: Gavin Hemmerlein

I know, I know. This isn’t a exercise movement (it is but it isn’t). I get the confusion, but the focus of this whole series isn’t really just about exercises. The point behind this whole series has been targeting weaknesses. Foam Rolling, or SMR, is just about that point. You target a tightened muscle and “release” the tightness.

So to understand SMR, you need to understand what a fascia is. In a very simple sense, the fascia is structure of connective tissue that surrounds muscles/muscle groups, blood vessels, and nerves. It sometimes binds these structures together. Like tendons and ligaments, the fascia is made out of collagen. The myofascia is a form of this and aids in the movement of muscles (transmission from muscle to bone, providing a movable surface, and provides support and protection for nerves and blood vessels during contractions).

There are a number of ways that the tissue can become restricted, as well as other focuses for SMR such as other connective tissue, but the target of SMR is to release this restriction. To do this, one must find the trigger points; areas where the muscle feels as if it has a knot. This has been the focus of deep tissue massaging for a long time. This is accomplished by either direct or indirect release.

Direct release is where constant pressure is applied to the trigger point. One can accomplish this by rolling on a foam roller until pressure is placed on the trigger spot (most likely the most painful location). At that point, the muscles being relaxed, the pressure is held on the spot until a “release” occurs (felt by pain/tension relief). Indirect release is accomplished through more of a stretching motion with slight pressure placed on the affected area.

I’ll link a few great resources for foam rolling at the end of this post. I am starting to see some very positive studies being done on the benefits of foam rolling. I think it is starting to gain steam, even though it has been around forever. I do want to caution that there can be overuse issues if this is done too frequently. There will be trauma to the body, but this is not substantial trauma. With that being said, any trauma can lead to slight inflammation. This is simply the body’s healing response. If it happens too frequently or too traumatic, the body will cause issues. That is how tendonitis occurs and this can be possible if done on the incorrect areas or too frequently.