Self-Myofascial Release

Using a roller to relieve lower leg tension

Article written by Jeff Alexander for

SMR is the process of applying pressure to muscular knots with implements such as balls and rollers to bring about a release of tension, essentially the same release one gets from static stretching. It can be likened to self-massage. With the right instruction and caution, it can be an extremely effective skill set to have in your recovery ‘tool box.’ SMR allows an athlete to effectively deal with some of the knots that develop during the course of their conditioning without needing to wait until their therapist is available for an appointment. When the athlete does eventually make an appointment with a massage therapist, their therapist can go to work on the really deep knots that quite simply were impossible to get to before because of all the other tension in the muscles.

When muscles work at extreme loads or for extremely long periods of time the smallest functional parts of the muscles can begin to fail. When this happens the muscle is in an energy crisis and tends to tighten up even more, furthering the shortage of proper blood flow to that area of muscle. If the muscle is continually overloaded and nothing is done to achieve proper recovery, function will become inhibited and proper movement compromised.

There is this spider web-like stuff called fascia which is found everywhere in the body. Our bodies are constantly growing more and more of it to provide soft tissue structure and support. When you over train or injure a muscle your body lays down extra amounts of this supportive material which can cause adhesions between layers of tissue. If you get too many adhesions in or around the muscles, proper movement becomes compromised. Rubbing the muscle tissues can help break up some of these adhesions and restore more fluid movement of the muscles thereby relieving some of the tension on the joints.

Stretching can help open up much of the knots within the tight muscles. However some of the knots in the muscle may not ever release just through stretching. Knots keep blood flow through muscle tissue to a minimum and not enough nutrients get delivered to support full recovery. Applying just the right amount of pressure for just the right amount of time can release some of these knots. Breaking up these knots can greatly help speed recovery and decrease the amount of muscle soreness you experience following a workout.

Through SMR you can address tight muscles and fascial adhesions that inhibit proper movement. If you work to restore full functional range of motion to your body on a daily basis then you can potentially avoid the pitfalls of non-impact injuries caused by poor biomechanics such as ACL or rotator cuff issues.

Using a roller to relieve tight adductors

When the knees shift inward during a squat or when landing after a jump excessive stress is placed on the ankles, knees, hips, and lower back. Many people will attack the lateral rotators and extensors of the hip such as the piriformis and glutes, thinking that these muscles are too weak. While they may indeed need strengthening the true culprits are likely overly tight adductor muscles (the adductor magnus, longus, and brevis), and a tiny but very strong muscle close to the groin called the pectineus. Loosen the muscles on the inside of the thigh and the lateral rotators can better stabilize the hip and properly align the thighs. Using a roller or ball and proper SMR techniques can loosen these overly tight muscles.

Lie on a roller or ball with the inside of your thigh and slowly work from your knee to your pubic bone and you can find the knots that need a little added pressure to properly release them. Do it daily and it can do wonders for your joints.

Using a ball to relieve neck tension

Can SMR replace the massage therapist, physical therapist or chiropractor? In a word, no. You need the qualified assistance of a health professional to diagnose and treat many conditions that may present along with tight muscles. Proper muscle care is much like proper dental care. Do you need the dentist to brush and floss your teeth every day? No. There are some things you should be able to do for yourself. SMR is one method of taking more responsibility for your physical health and well-being.

SMR is a growing concept of self-care that enables the individual to not only feel better by relieving some of the tension in their tight muscles but it also helps to reduce dysfunctional compensations by restoring proper range of motion during movement. It is not a question of ‘if’ the muscles will develop an ischemic condition or an adhesion, but ‘when’ and ‘how much’ of the muscle will be compromised.

SMR helps the athlete to continue to pursue their competitive goals longer and with fewer injuries by the very nature of improving blood flow and biomechanical function. Slow work equals fast releases within the soft tissues. We are much better at turning muscles on than turning them off.

To learn more, go to:

Post your questions on FaceBook at:

(just search for “SMR” on FaceBook and look for the Evil Eyes)

Jeff Alexander

Founder, Network Fitness, LLC

Personal trainer and coach since 1994

Continuing education provider

SMR presenter

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