Self-myofascial Release, Myofascial Trigger Point Release and Foam Rolling. What does it all mean? And most importantly, how does it work?

Well… to keep it simple, self-myofascial release and myofascial trigger point release are technically the same thing. Myofascial release is a form of soft or deep tissue massage to relieve those nasty uncomfortable areas called trigger points (a small patch of tightly contracted muscle) caused by physical and mental stress. Foam rolling is an extremely effective ‘do-it-yourself’ method to help minimize these areas which is what I will be going over today.

Firstly, let’s define what this fascia is. Fascia is a thin sheath of fibrous tissue enclosing a muscle or organ. In this case we will be referring to the muscle or muscle belly. Metaphorically, if you can picture that thin stretchy layer of film that covers a chicken fillet, just imagine that film is the fascia and the fillet is the muscle belly. Once this fascia becomes tight and rigid, the muscle will then become restricted to full range of movement, reduced blood flow and therefore problems can persist in muscle tightness and soreness. This is where these trigger points or ‘knots’ will start to form and potentially radiate out to other areas of the body.

Self-myofascial release is the process of eliminating those nasty trigger points (aka knots) mainly in the muscle belly and the rolling can assist in breaking up the knots whilst enabling normal blood flow and function to the targeted muscle by rolling or applying similar massage tools.

Foam rolling has become a necessity when it comes to physical activity, especially among sporting clubs. I would personally suggest rolling out on almost a daily basis if you can commit to it. Prior to exercising rolling is ideal when it comes to warming up (stretching out) the muscle fibres and enabling full range of motion throughout the joints and muscles. Training on cold muscles is a recipe for disaster. Rolling out post training is just as important as it will help deliver blood flow and oxygen back to the already worked muscles which will reduce the time for your muscles to recover. In saying that, try to avoid rolling over a joint or bone, and also be extremely careful when rolling out your lower back (lumbar region).

Although self-myofascial release will never be a miracle cure when it comes to taking out injury and muscular discomfort altogether, it will however in my opinion be the next best thing to staying on top of potential injury and peak performance. On another note, I would not completely rule out dynamic stretching prior to training and static stretching following training – something I will follow up in another blog. They all very much play hand in hand.

Following a rolling session, do make sure that you drink plenty of water throughout the day to flush out any excess toxins (by-products). Rolling out will tend to build up by-products such as lactic acid that can make you feel pretty average within the following days. Peeing out these toxins out are the best way to rid them from your body.

As effective as foam rollers are they still can be difficult to get into those hard to reach places due to the rollers large surface area. In this case I’d either use a golf, tennis, lacrosse or massage ball to get in behind the knees, hip flexors, pecs, shoulder blades and under the balls of your feet. Another useful tool that you can use is called a Pocket Physio. This handy affordable object is a mould that simulates a palm, thumb or finger. This can also be ideal to use lightly on your hip flexors, glutes, pecs, shoulder blades and traps.

Before commencing with the roller, use one of the above objects such as the tennis, golf or lacrosse ball to roll out the fascia from under both feet for 5-10 minutes each. Prior to doing this, stand up and bend at the hips (lock your knees) and see how far you can reach for the ground. Now, start using the ball exercise. Following this action, try touching the floor again. Did you notice a difference in flexibility and range of movement? Generally, if you have issues with your feet, the pain will radiate up through other areas in your body such as knees, hips and back. This is the perfect time to start foam rolling from your ankles up; calves, quads, hamstrings, tibialis anterior and iliotibial band (aka ITB or IT band). Gluteal muscles, hip flexors, abdominals (yep, abs too), obliques and upper back are next to follow. Don’t forget to cover the medial (inside) and lateral (outside) areas of your thighs and torso.

I used to always take the novice approach by applying as much pressure as possible on the targeted muscle and roll profusely. Nowadays, I cannot stress enough about applying just the right amount of pressure without over stimulating or in flaming the injury. If you visualize a pain threshold where 10 is quite excruciating and 1 is light tissue massage, I’d probably recommend a 4-7 pain scale. If you do come across a sensitive spot, gently massage the area around it and continue to work your way back to the most sensitive point. Try to pause on that particular spot for 10-15 seconds before preceding to the next area.

As I’ve tried and experienced different varieties of foam rollers over the years, there is only one brand to date that I stand 100% behind. I have been using and recommending Trigger Point Therapy Grid rollers and massage balls for years (above image). Softer rollers can be ideal to begin with but as soon as your body starts to desensitize to the intensity, chances are that they won’t be so effective later on. Those spiky/knobby rollers and balls may work for others, but I find that they do more harm than good.


I do hope that you have benefited a bit out of this blog. For any questions and enquiries
please do not hesitate to contact me.

Matt Brown

Comments 2

  1. David Birrell
    December 26, 2016

    Great article Matt.

    1. admin
      January 3, 2017

      Thank you David!

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