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A Holiday Gift to Tight Muscles: Four Self-Myofascial Release Videos!

Rolling, rolling, rolling

Rolling, rolling, rolling. Keep those IT Bands rolling.

The holidays are a season of giving, so let’s make sure we give our body and muscles the TLC they deserve. We often go about our day-to-day interactions (and workouts) with chronic stiffness somewhere and that tightness leads to “movement compensations”. Usually movement compensations initially manifest themselves as just a nagging tightness or slight discomfort that you feel every so often but don’t think much of. The problem is nagging stiffness eventually becomes nagging pain which can eventually become a chronic movement injury. That’s why most people throw out their backs when picking up a piece of paper or pencil…you were doing the same thing you always do…compensating! That improper bend just happened to be the straw that broke the camel’s back (pun loosely intended). Alternately, excess muscle tightness can lead to limited workout effectiveness and increased risk of injury when doing physical activity.

We need to do certain things in life (sit up, stand up, pick things up, walk, turn, reach, etc.) and our body is going to do them regardless of whether or not we use the right muscles and joints to do them. Unfortunately when the right muscles and joints are not available due to chronic muscle tightness, the body compensates and asks other muscles and joints to “pick up the slack” and get the job done. Unfortunately, these are the muscles and joints that become painful and injured. It’s the victim that cries, not the perpetrator! A classic example is lower back or knee pain (victim) due to hip tightness (perpetrator), possibly from sitting all day.

Often these issues are due to the constant positions and repetitive motions we place ourselves in on a daily basis. Do you sit most of the day? Do you hunch or lean forward at your desk to read or see a computer screen? Or are you on your feet for many hours? Do you have to turn, move or lift repeatedly throughout the day? Do you carry your bag, backpack, briefcase or groceries on the same side regularly? Do you wear high heels often? These are all potential contributing factors to movement compensations.

Now imagine doing workouts with these compensation patterns. We are building a house on a shaky foundation. Odds are, the more we build, the more stress and cracks we will place on that faulty foundation until it cracks, gives and collapses…along with the house. We need a solid foundation of healthy movement patterns without compensation before adding significant weight and intensity to movement. Otherwise we will be continuing to feed these poor movements…with more weight!

So how do we help promote better movement when faced with movement compensations and situations where we are constantly subject to repetitive motions and positions? Enter myofascial release.

The best example of myofascial release is massage therapy, particularly deep tissue massage. The massage therapist uses their hands to find tight “trigger points” within the muscle and release them. Often releasing these “knots”, “trigger points” or “adhesions” is a bit (or extremely) uncomfortable, but we feel a ton better afterward. We feel looser, more relaxed and we notice that we can move better. Yet within a few days the tightness returns…usually due to the fact that we continue to do the same movements and postures that got us tight to begin with. So you could go back to the massage therapist. But not all of us have the time, accessibility or monetary funds to see a massage therapist on a regular basis. Enter self-myofascial release!

In many ways, self-myofascial release can be considered massage therapy “light”. While nothing can fully replace the precision and depth of a pair of human thumbs (or elbows), using items like a foam roller, pinky ball, tennis ball, frozen water bottle or golf ball to apply pressure on an overworked, stiff muscle’s trigger points can create a relaxation response that can result in:

  1. 1) Increased joint range of motion

  2. 2) Better/more correct muscle pattern activation

  3. 3) Better blood flow and circulation to the tight muscle

In essence, very similar results to a massage therapist! And if you perform self-myofascial release consistently (at least three times a week for 5 to 15 minutes) on your chronically tight muscles, you will likely experience:

  1. 1) Reduced risk of repetitive stress and acute exercise injuries

  2. 2) Increased workout effectiveness and athletic performance

  3. 3) Less nagging discomfort when performing daily activities

So by now I’m sure you want to know what muscles you need to foam roll and how to do it! Your chronically tight muscles depend on the positions you hold or movements you do repeatedly. But for many people, especially those that sit and hunch forward regularly, four typically tight areas are the side of the leg (IT Band), the inner thigh, the chest and the upper back/shoulders area. I created some “how-to” videos for performing self-myofascial release on these areas. Access them by clicking the links above and using the Password: TPR122011

Be sure to roll on the muscles, not directly over the joints or on bones. If you have any acute or chronic joint conditions (i.e. osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, tendonitis) be careful when performing self-myofascial release. If you have any hesitation or concerns about performing these techniques, you should consult with a qualified fitness professional to make sure you are doing these movements correctly.

A great way to figure out if the fitness professional is qualified is ask them: “Can you help me with self-myofascial release to help with a tight (insert your stiff muscles here)?” If they look at you like you have three heads, they are probably not the ideal candidate! But if you feel comfortable performing these movements on your own here’s a bit more detail:

In many ways trigger point release is a calculated “seek-and-destroy” mission. As you move the foam roller or tennis ball along the target muscle you will likely find a particular area that is very uncomfortable. The key is to apply sustained, but not unbearable pressure on that area, breathe and relax the muscle onto the ball/roller. Usually within 15-30 seconds the discomfort will begin to dissipate. Once the discomfort is about 75% gone, continue on. Be aware though that where you find one trigger point, there are often many others right around it. So you may not get very far before finding another adhesion. Continue for as long as you feel comfortable; try to get up and down the muscle(s) at least 2 times. It should get easier the more often you do it.

And a better, healthier, happier body should be on everyone’s wish list! Enjoy the holiday season!

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