5 Reasons Why Myofascial Release is Your New Best Friend
Today we’re going to talk about Myofascial Release, a technique with a lot of benefits and an evolving science behind it.
What the heck is a Myofascia?
Your muscles are pretty cool, being responsible for every movement you’ve ever done (besides falling). When it comes to your body, they do all the heavy lifting (pun unashamedly intended), but they are supported by layers of fibrous fascia tissue. Fasciae are connective tissues that surround muscles, groups of muscles, blood vessels, and nerves. In come cases, fasciae bind things together and in other cases they help them slide smoothly against one another. Examples include holding organs in place, providing a supporting structure for nerves/blood vessels, and helping transmit movements between muscle & bone.
Today we’re concerned with the fasciae interacting with muscles, called myofasciae (“myo” refers to muscle tissue). These tissues help the muscle contract and relax properly, but sometimes things go a little awry and the muscles don’t fully relax. If you’ve ever had a “knot” in a muscle then you already know exactly what this feels like. Knots are the result of injured myofascial groups, which become tight and constricted in response to trauma. Don’t panic, “trauma” isn’t inherently bad. Here it just means something caused a sustained contraction and the muscles are having a hard time relaxing, like frequent exercise or even stress. The fancy word for a knot is “Myofascial Trigger Point”.
So, armed with Science, we can now state that: Myofascial Release is the reduction of tension at Myofascial Trigger Points in various muscle groups. Bonus Tip: Science is sexy.
So, how do you Release your Myofasciae? Foam Rollers, lacrosse balls, tennis balls, and various other tools exist to accomplish this goal. Some massage therapists are trained in Myofascial Release techniques in addition to classical massage. Really this could be an article in and of itself, but here’s the overview of the technique:
1. You identify a trigger point by finding the most tender spot of a muscle. Either palpate (medical term for “touching with a purpose”) the sore muscle until you find the tenderest spot, or use one of tools above to do the same. The tender bit is a trigger point.
2. Once you locate the tender spot, begin placing pressure on that spot and hold it. It usually takes 30-90 seconds to feel the muscle relax, the tissue will soften, and the discomfort will recede.
3. Repeat this process with other sore spots one by one, generally moving out from a central part of the muscle (i.e. the middle of the thigh/quadriceps) to the extremities of the muscle (in the example of the quadriceps, moving towards the knee and hip).
5 Reasons Why Myofascial Release is Your New Best Friend
1. Myofascial Release helps you relax
Feeling tense is a sign of stress, both physical and mental. This stress can cause the Myofascial Trigger Points we talked about above, and if not dealt with can compound upon itself and get worse over time. Chronic muscle pain is, to use science jargon, “Bad” or “Not Good”. Targeting these pain points with the intent to relieve that stress is inherently relaxing to the muscle, and your emotional tension will benefit from the reduction in pain/discomfort.
2. Myofascial Release reduces pain
There are a couple types of pain you can experience in relation to your muscular system. Muscle soreness after a workout is related to micro-tears in the tissue which will heal over and lead to more strength, while extreme trauma like being shot leads to what we normally refer to as pain (firing of the damaged nerves). The trigger points are another source of pain, which can be localized to the muscle experiencing the knot, as well as have a more profound effect on the rest of the body: sometimes a knot in one muscle cause other muscles to feel sore as the tension spreads throughout the fascial system. When you actively address the knots muscle by muscle, you reduce the pain in that area as well as additional pain experience in the fascial system as a whole.
3. Myofascial Release improves flexibility
Yoda is great for stringing concepts together (“Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering.”) Well in our case, Myofascial Trigger Points (knots) are the path to the Inflexible Side. Knots lead to contraction; contraction leads to tighter muscle; tighter muscle leads to less range of motion. When you target the knots for release, you are allowing your muscles to fully relax, which is necessary to safely express the full range of motion for any given muscle/joint group.
4. Myofascial Release helps you recover
When you exercise you are causing micro-trauma to your muscles. The adaptation to that trauma is what causes you to get stronger, because your body basically says “if we’re going to keep doing this, I need a better system for accomplishing it” and starts rebuilding the “damage” to better withstand the trauma next time. But your body has a hard time adapting when things are out of order, and the best time for healing is when you’re as close to your natural state (called homeostasis) as possible. Knots in your muscles are not homeostatic, and they reduce your ability to recover. If you target and reduce trigger points over the whole of your myofascial system, you improve your body’s resting state, and thus your ability to recover from exercise induced traumas.
5. Myofascial Release elevates your mood
So far working on your myofascial health has: reduced tension, reduced pain, improved flexibility, and helped you recover faster from workouts. If all of that isn’t enough to put a smile on your face, how about an endorphin cocktail? Endorphins (root words: “endo-” short for endogenous and “-orphin” short for morphine, meaning “morphine-like substance originating from within the body) are released during exercise, excitement, pain, spicy food consumption, love, and sexual activity. Myofascial Release can be a little painful because you are working out muscle knots, and that pain causes nerve impulses to travel to the spinal column, and those impulses are met with a release of endorphins to help prevent further pain impulses. Endorphins resemble opiates in their abilities to produce analgesia and a feeling of well-being.
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