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Self myofascial release: what you need to know

12 June, 2016

let’s talk mobility

We’ve all been there and had tight knots, sore spots, and put up with aches and pains. One way to help treat them is using a foam roller or trigger point ball – the technical term for this is ‘self myofascial release’ (behave), and to properly understand it, we’ve called in the expert: Tim Blakey.

Before Tim gives us the lowdown, let us give you the lowdown on Tim. He’s a performance specialist with a strong background in physiotherapy, as well as strength training and nutrition. That makes him the go-to guy for muscle imbalances, postural issues, as well as aesthetic goals (no wonder he’s trained and treated a number of celebs, international sportsmen and even a president or two). You only have to have a glance at his Instagram @timblakey_tbm to get some great tips from his videos.


what is our fascia?

It’s a firm, shiny film of connective tissue that envelops our muscles, nerves, blood vessels and organs. It flows through us continuously from head to toe – just like the Force does within a Jedi; only with a more physical presence. Under a microscope, it looks a lot like a spiders web. 

This tissue fulfills many structural and chemical functions in mammals (meat eaters: it’s the thin film you can see between sections of your raw steak or covering your chicken breast), and it’s largely responsible for the huge freedom of movement, especially in us humans. But when this tissue becomes dysfunctional, it can cause movement restriction and pain.

One of the best ways to understand it (and bear with us here..!) is to imagine that if our bones represent the compression resistant stones that create traditional Roman arches and bridges…


…then our fascia is like the tension cables that help hold up bridges like the Golden Gate Bridge.


If there was a kink in one of those bridge cables on the right, it’s easy to see how it would start to skew the symmetry of the bridge. A more significant kink or even bunching of multiple cables would start to really throw the symmetry out and even affect the function of the bridge. See where we’re going here?


how do we get kinks and adhesions?

Weight training, running, or any athletic pursuit can (and will) cause adhesions or kinks between adjacent layers of fascia, or between fascia and muscle. It’s unfortunate, but that’s how our bodies work – they respond to the healthy forms of stress we put them through. They break down, and they rebuild to become stronger. But, it’s when these new fibers are laid down in the rebuilding process that adhesions can occur, and during an injury of a muscle, there isn’t just an increased chance of adhesions/kinks forming, but greater severity too.

 If this is sounding like the best excuse not to exercise, its not! Sitting or standing for prolonged periods of times with poor/slouched postures (hello office work) can create adaptive changes in all of our connective tissues and muscles, resulting in adhesions within fascial layers. Without the mediating benefits of exercise (better blood flow and rebuilding), these adhesions can become more longstanding and harder to get rid of than those found in an athletic population.


how does self-myofascial release help?

It releases these tissues by creating aa biochemical and mechanical change, which allows us to create more efficient movement patterns.Trigger-point balls or lacrosse balls (as found in Fitty’s 26.2 running box and the Fergus Box!) target the harder to get areas like the chest and shoulder, which foam rollers can’t reach.

Using these before exercise – or at the end of a long day at the office – is a great way to mobilise any stiff fascia and muscle. It tends to be a bit painful on the areas you need to treat most, but you’ll notice improvements in movement almost immediately. After a few sessions you’ll be hooked and training won’t be the same without it!


how to use trigger point balls

'Pin and stretch' techniques are particularly effective – check out Tim's videos below.

Essentially you target your tender spot with the ball, then work through the range of movement that's restricted. So if it's a tight spot in your chest, wedge a ball between a wall and your chest muscle. Then with your thumb facing upward, attempt to raise your arm up overhead, while maintaining pressure on the tender point and ball. Use your free hand to stabilise the ball if you need – now repeat that 9 more times! 






iastt – for when it gets serious

We hope none of you Fitty’s reading this have serious mobility issues, but unfortunately for many people, long-standing fascial adhesions or restrictions can’t be corrected with self-trigger point release. That’s when it’s time to bring in the big guns: Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Therapy (IASTT). IASTT involves the use of tools, usually stainless steel (which look scarily like blades). They’re used in a rhythmic fashion back and forth over areas to instigate controlled micro-trauma.

It sounds brutal, right? It’s not so bad – this micro-trauma to the area sets off a cascade of localised inflammation that triggers the breakdown and remodeling of the scarred tissue. The stiff nature of the tool has a secondary benefit too; the vibratory feedback it gives over different tissue allows therapists to diagnose, detect and pinpoint specific areas of adhesion/scarring of muscle and fascia. The friction heat it generates in the area causes the fascia to become more fluid-like, which is why patients get significant improvement in mobility instantly. As the remodeling then takes place, the goal is to maintain these mobility gains. 

It often looks worse than it is too. The skin might look grazed and broken like in the image below, but it’s not – there’s often some spotting of blood under the skin (called petechiae), which is a completely normal response. It can be a godsend for people who’ve let injuries and imbalances get out of hand due to the instant benefit and mobility gains. 


So if you’re not one of those people already using foam rollers and trigger point balls in the gym, it’s time to join the club.


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