If you’re someone who does sports regularly, chances are that you would have experienced aches and pains of some kind. You would also have heard a friend, coach or physiotherapist recommend using foam rollers or lacrosse balls to manage such pain. Such equipment are the tools used in self-myofascial release (SMR), a type of muscle therapy that deals with immobility and muscle tightness by stretching and relaxing your muscles and improving circulation. SMR can be a great form of DIY physiotherapy because it’s easy to do on your own, but unfortunately it can be performed incorrectly. To really reap the benefits that SMR has to offer, make sure you’re doing it the right way.
1. Find the balance between pain and comfort
When you’re rolling yourself, adjust the amount of pressure until you find a level of pain that is too strong to be ignored but not too intense that you can’t bear it. You know you’re exerting the right amount of pressure when you find that you still can control your breathing and take long deep breathes steadily. Avoid going all out and causing yourself a lot of pain as your muscles will tense up, which defeats the purpose of therapy.
2. Roll at a slow and regulated pace
SMR is all about relaxation and tension release so rolling slowly will help to ease your muscles properly. You can regulate your pace by matching it to your breathing – apply pressure for 10 breaths at the “hot spot” before rolling about the target area. It’s also important to keep your movements small instead of spreading them out over a large area. Don't rush!
3. Perform SMR on different muscles
Just because a particular muscle is always hurting doesn’t mean you only have to roll that area. Weakness in one muscle puts pressure on the surrounding muscles around it, so strengthening the mobility of the muscles around your problematic area will help. Sometimes the reason why a certain muscle is always strained is because the other muscles around it are weak. For example, having a shin splint could be a result of weak ankles or glutes rather than purely caused by strained calf muscles. The best way to determine which areas you should be performing SMR is by consulting a physiotherapist who can then recommend which muscle groups to work on.
4. Mobilise the injured area after performing SMR
Working the injured area is as simple as swinging or rotating your injured limb and forth – any form of movement works as long as it is slow and doesn’t cause you pain. Repeat this action several times slowly and visualise the tension ebbing away. These repetitive movements speed up the recovery process because it trains that part of your body to retain and “remember” its mobility so that the next time you want to activate this muscle, it doesn’t freeze up.
SMR is a simple and fuss-free form of muscle therapy for non-serious injuries which can deliver positive results, but it’s important to note that it's far from a miracle solution. If the correct application of SMR modalities fail to provide any form of relief, it would be best to consult a physiotherapist, sports doctor or an osteopath. Sometimes, all your body needs is that professional touch!