Foam Rolling: Is Soft Tissue Release Really Essential To Your Training?
Foam Rolling is a self-release myo-fascial technique that can be applied to a variety of tissues. Self-myo-fascial release is often used to enhance recovery and improve performance. Despite its popularity, research is still ongoing in understanding the physiological effects regarding the optimal program for range of motion, recovery and performance. The results and benefits we observe in clinical settings are positive, however, the purpose and the method you use must have meaning and be well understood.
How does it work?
The kinetic chain is made up of a soft- tissue system (muscles, tendons, ligaments and fascia), a neural system (nerves and central nervous system) and an articular system (joints). Fascia forms a continuous web throughout the whole body, surrounding all muscles, bones, nerves and organs. It protects the structures from abrasion and also acts as a tube through which neuro-vascular bundles can easily penetrate.
Muscles and fascia are united to form the myo-fascial system. Fascia is intimately involved in controlling both the movement patterns and the neurological control mechanisms of the entire body, which means that the entire body is affected by any local change.
"Fascia contains six times more sensory nerve endings than the muscles."
What are trigger points?
Trigger points are hyperirritable spots in skeletal muscle that are associated with a hypersensitive palpable nodule in a tense band. When a trigger point is present in muscle tissue, it is described as a myo-fascial trigger point. Trigger points compress the local blood vessels and the reduced perfusion causes a local oxygen deficit, called hypoxia.
Pain (local and referred)
function disturbance (muscle weakness)
Myo-fascial pain is largely caused by a combination of various factors ranging from direct trauma and acute strain to chronic strain (poor posture, repetitive movements) and a poor level of fitness. Therapeutic interventions to reduce trigger points and myo-fascial pain include various manual and modality-based approaches techniques provided by various health professionals.
Self-Myo-Fascial (Soft Tissue) Release
Self-myo-fascial release techniques such as foam rolling, when properly applied, include very slow and finely tuned directional changes only. Such techniques can offer an inexpensive, effective and convenient tool for reducing tightness, or any other dysfunctions localized in specific areas.
Foam rollers come in various sizes and foam densities. The firmness of the roller or the ball and the application of the body weight need to be individually monitored. Do not go blindly into stretching or do soft tissue work on areas unless you know exactly what area you’re working on and what reduction in stiffness you are trying to achieve.
Benefits – studies are ongoing:
• Improve range of motion & mobility of muscles (short-term)
• Improve posture & quality of movement
• Improve blood flow to muscles
• Decrease muscle soreness & relieve joint stress
• Increase neuromuscular efficiency
An important aspect to remember is the concept of slow, long-term renewal of the fascial network. Contrarily to strength training in which big results occur early on in training, and more similarly to stretching, self-myo-fascial release changes occur slowly and yet the results are long lasting when you practice consistently.
Osteoporosis or advanced degenerative changes
Hypersensitivity to skin
Exercise Prescription (no official science consensus to date):
Training should be regular with only a few minutes of appropriate exercises, and performing it 2-3 days per week is sufficient for collagen remodelling. The renewal process can take anywhere between 6 months and 2 years. It's also important to note that soft tissue release should not replace muscular strength work, cardiovascular training, or mobility exercises, but rather should be thought of as an important addition to a comprehensive training program.
Do not hesitate to reach out to your health professional (Certified Kinesiologist, Physiotherapist, Massage Therapist or Chiropractor) for a proper prescription and progression of foam rolling usage.