Updated: Dec 1, 2020
Self myofascial release is essentially self massage. Self massage using hands, tools (like the rad roller) and movement with the purpose of releasing knotted and restricted parts of the net of connective tissue encompassing our whole body, called the fascia. In doing so, this entire interconnected net of tissue responds, creating a redistribution of global pressure and restoration of proper function. Soft tissue hygiene is absolutely essential to keeping that body running smoothly. And it doesn't have to cost you a dime...you can do it yourself!
If my intro didn't convince you, here's a little more explanation...
3 Reasons you need self myofascial release in your life:
Helps you understand your "problem areas"
Provides a nervous system tune-up
Lays foundation for proper function...everywhere
Now, let's take a deeper dive into these 3 points...
1. Helps you understand your "problem areas
Practicing self myofascial release increases awareness of your patterns and provides a framework to unwind them. Understanding how to change is the first step in creating it.
Here's an example:
We see it all too often: the classic overworked human with back pain tugging at the back of their neck and shoulders as they hunch over a laptop. A large majority of modern neck and back pain stems from a pulling down and forward of the entire frame. A slouch, as it were. This overstretches our back side and over-shortens our front side, rendering both sets of muscles unable to perform full range, and therefore full function. If the back side of our shoulders is already overstretched, why is it that our first instinct is often to reach back there and start stretching them out more? The answer, in part, is nociceptors (sensory receptors that relay messages about pressure, temperature and, particularly important in this case, stretch) that detect overstretch as pain. The overstretched muscles are literally getting microtears and laying scar tissue. Yet on the other side of our equation, in this example the chest and anterior shoulders, the muscles are in a state of constant contraction. These muscles receive less blood flow and nervous communication. Meanwhile, the surrounding fascial tissue begins to lay collagenous cross-fibers that increases connective tissue density, creates adhesions between muscles, circulatory structures and nearby organs, and causes the whole fascial net to shift under an abnormal tension distribution.
So, while it is really the front side that needs releasing, our attention naturally goes go what hurts more: the overstretched parts.
If our laptop pal only knew that an open chest with shoulders down and back would decrease those incoming pain signals, perhaps they would stop mindlessly tugging at the back of their neck and instead mindfully use those hands to create a gentle pin and stretch to open the chest, by proxy lengthening the spine and expanding the breath. Using techniques of self myofascial release will give you a felt experience of your body, tuning you into what parts need attention. Awareness of your movement patterns is the key to unlocking your "problem areas"
2. Provides a nervous system tune-up
(through pain response adaptation, neuroplasticity and breathwork)
Gentle, sustained pressure is an important component to myofascial release. This slow sink into the tissue, especially in areas that are tense and sensitive, communicates to the brain that this sensation is not a threat. Working in the range of slight discomfort without pain begins to break down the mental barriers behind painful movement patterns. As such, your distinction between discomfort and pain will become more nuanced. This understanding empowers us to work in that space of discomfort to enable change.
Self myofascial release also affects neuroplasticity, or the potential to shift existing neural pathways and develop new ones. Releasing restricted tissue with the tools of self myofascial release then following up with a specific movement for that area communicates with the brain that a new range of motion is possible. Detecting this, our bodies can actually shift our neural pathways as a means of developing new movement patterns. Change is possible!
These techniques are also accompanied by a smooth, even breath. This type of a breath downshifts our nervous system toward a sympathetic state, geared toward rest. A session of self-myofascial release paired with breathing is a fantastic way to destress and rest.
3. Lays a foundation for proper function...everywhere
The fascial net is all encompassing and exists within and between every structure of our bodies. Imagine, once more, our Laptop Pal, hunched over a keyboard with founded spine and heavy heat. Staying in this position over time will not only affect their muscles and bones, but the function of everything...everywhere. Not only is the skeleton accommodating an unbalanced load, but breathing becomes restricted, lungs don't fill to capacity, diaphragm does not pump to create circulation, restricting the movement and function of the liver, kidneys and stomach which are already being crushed under the weight of the ribcage...I could go on. But you get the point. Restriction in one place means compromising the function of every other place.
Self myofascial release in this way, isn't so much about treating symptoms as it is creating a whole-body state of wellness. Of course it can help with specific issues, but you'll notice with consistent practice that the whole body responds when care is given to just one part.
Here's the famous Thomas Meyers, author of Anatomy Trains:
"If you wish to change the relationships among the bones, change the tensional balance through the soft tissue, and the bones will rearrange themselves."
Practicing regular self myofasical release will be a game changer if you're experiencing pain or discomfort in your body. It is targeted work at your soft and connective tissues to maintain hydration and hygiene. This practice will clue you into your problem areas, communicate with your nervous system to create change and help your whole body get set a bit more aligned.
Stay tuned for future posts with specific techniques.
And to take a deeper dive into what self myofascial release can do for you, come to my virtual self care classes, in collaboration with The Wellness Center in Denver, CO.
December 3: Rad Roller Basics
December 10: Upper Body Self Care
December 17: Lower Body Self Care
5-545 pm MST
Check out @wellnessdenver on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for more offerings!
Anatomy Trains by Thomas Meyers