If you’ve seen people rolling around on hard foam cylinders or tennis balls grimacing in pain but have never tried it yourself, you’re missing out on the most amazing discomfort known as self-myofascial release (SMR). If you haven’t see (or tried) it, where have you been for the last 5-10 years?!?!?
I’m about to give you my quick interpretation of fascia lines/trigger points and why you absolutely MUST consider some form of myofascial release, so sit back and enjoy the ride on the oversimplified analogy express.
Where the Wild Wind Blows
Have you ever seen a tree growing along a coastline or the top of a hill that resembles the one above? Because it’s almost constantly subjected to stresses of the prevailing winds, the tree has no choice but to adapt its form. Bend permanently or risk breaking. Nature at its finest.
Sitting in front of your computer all day and cementing your arse in front of the TV for hours on end, and any other lifestyle-non-activities are the human-lifestyle equivalent of prevailing winds. Even though you’re not moving, sitting down is still a stressor (damn you, gravity!) As our bodies are stressed, so will they adapt. Sadly, too many people have become sitting-specialists. Perfect if that’s the ONLY thing you’re ever going to do, but unless your name is Stephen Hawking, you’re probably gonna have to get up and take the trash out at least once a week.
Is being active the answer? Bench pressing, playing tennis, swimming or any other activity that puts frequent stresses on your body will ALSO cause an adaptation. Increasing loads/frequency reinforce these adaptations.
When it comes to sports performance, these specialized adaptations are just one part of what makes an athlete “elite”. Your fascia lines will orient themselves according to the demands put upon them most often. But that level of specialization is generally only applicable to that sport/activity. The longer you specialize, the deeper set the dominant patterns (and compensations) become.
What happens when the athlete is between games/practices? What about when he/she retires altogether? What happens when an incredible athlete stops playing basketball and switches to baseball (cough, cough… Michael Jordan… cough)? While ‘athletic ability’ or ‘potential’ may be there, the previous levels of specialization is hard to overturn and convert to another activity.
The wind-swept tree grows EXACTLY how it needs to because it’s not likely someone is going to dig it up, turn it around and expect it to be able to handle years of equally constant/strong winds from the opposite direction.
Over the course of a typical lifetime, most of our physical demands will involve walking. Our stationary demands (read: sitting) involve knee, hip and spine flexion (there’s gravity at work again), therefore most of our movement challenges are going to be sagittal plane dominant, so our fascia lines – or ‘Anatomy Trains‘ as Thomas Myers describes ’em – will tend to structure themselves in such a way to support the demands of what most of us would call “normal” or “natural” movement.
Ever see an infant squirm around trying to get a handle on ‘simple’ movement? Their network of fascia and muscle hasn’t had the exposure to the prevailing winds of gravity, so they move very freely, but in time, we ALL develop the same 12 main patterns as Myers describes in his book. Some patterns get exaggerated, but gravity gets all of us down eventually.
As good ol’ Chuck D (I’m talking about Charles Darwin, of course, NOT the rapper) is often quoted, “it’s not the strongest who survive, but the one that is most adaptable to change.” THIS is why I recommend daily SMR. It preserves your natural ability to adapt to new movement challenges. When you’re able to locate and roll out trigger points/adhesions, you’re basically rebooting your body’s fascia-clock. Not quite to the infant level, of course, but enough that you can move and feel better at whatever movements (or lack thereof) life throws your way.
A massage every week or two may feel good, but for it to effectively offset any ‘prevailing winds’, you need frequency. If you have the time/schedule, budget and interest to get a daily massage, that’s great. For the rest of us, there are plenty of effective do-it-yourself tools to choose from. In fact, earlier this year, I invented an alternative to the old “tennis balls and duct tape” option. You can learn all about ’em at www.BloobAllz.com.
Be Warned: Bloob-Allz are NOT An Entry-Level SMR Tool
Is SMR uncomfortable? It sure can be – IF you have significant trigger points. But once you get ’em under control, healthy tissue shouldn’t hurt. You can use a foam roll, tennis ball, PVC pipe (yes, I’ve seen it done), Bloob-Allz or any of the other SMR tools available.
Can’t handle the pain? A physical therapist friend told me about a new myofasical release system developed in Sedona, AZ that doesn’t hurt at all. The tradeoff for brief, direct and potentially uncomfortable pressure (to put it mildly) of the SMR I’m talking about is a long duration manual therapy technique (and you’d have to go to Sedona, AZ to get it done.) Each trigger point can take 3+ minutes to ‘release’. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather just hit it hard for 20-30 uncomfortable seconds and move on to the next one. I can manage my own trigger points in roughly 10-15 minutes a day, thank you very much – plus that whole “vortex” thing in Sedona makes me wonder how legit the technique really is.