Recovery Part 4- Self-Induced Myofascial Release (SMR)

Massage has long been used between hard training bouts to help athletes relax and recover. Unfortunately unless your sports organization has an in-house massage therapist it can be an expensive recovery modality for the amateur athlete. If there is anything that can mimic the effects of massage without the steep cost, it is self-induced myofascial release (SMR). SMR is the term that is most often associated with foam rolling. Along with foam rolling, other implements such as “the stick” tool, tennis balls, or lacrosse balls can be used to perform SMR. In this article we’ll briefly cover the how-to of SMR when including it in your recovery protocol.

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SMR is a manual therapy technique used by individuals to help reduce restrictive barriers or fibrous adhesions between layers of fascial tissue. Fascial restrictions can occur as a result of injury, disease, inactivity, or inflammation. The end result is a loss in fascial elasticity and the tissue can become dehydrated and rigid. When this occurs the fascia can bind to surrounding tissues (including muscle) causing a fibrous adhesion to form. These adhesions can be painful (as in the case of trigger points), and impair normal muscle mechanics including soft-tissue extensibility. The more rigid the tissue, the less able it is to perform safely and effectively. If we can create more suppleness in our tissues and reduce muscular tone through SMR than it is hypothesized that we are further along in the recovery process. Unfortunately many of the popular beneficial claims made about SMR have not yet been validated in research. However, SMR has been shown to improve soft-tissue extensibility (promote muscle suppleness and flexibility), as well as improve vascular health. These two supported benefits do make SMR worth the short investment of time required to reap the benefits.

The most common tool for performing SMR is the foam roller. It is best to use a foam roller that is firm enough to cause mild discomfort over rigid muscle groups, yet soft enough to allow you to stay relaxed while rolling. There is not an incorrect time to foam roll. Unlike static stretching and some forms of massage, recent research has demonstrated that foam rolling prior to activity does not cause decrements in muscular force production that may hinder performance. Individuals with limited training time may also choose to foam roll while resting between sets of exercise. Foam rolling post-workout may mimic the effects of a flush massage by helping to force metabolic waste from the muscle.

Research is not available to offer a recommended effective dose for SMR. However, antecdotally it does not appear that there are any ill effects to foam rolling often and for long durations (more than once per day, 10-30 minutes). Also antecdotally it is appears that foam rolling a rigid area until tenderness begins to dissipate and suppleness improves is an ideal duration. Along with enhancing recovery, flexibility can also be improved through foam rolling provided it is performed consistently and often.

Next up in the Recovery Series, Part 5- Programming for Recovery

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