Self Massage with a Foam Roller

Benefits of Foam Rolling self-myofascial release

The benefits of foam rolling have to do with the mobility of the fascia. Fascia is a fibrous layer of connective tissue that surrounds all of the muscles in our body. Without proper mobility, fibers of the fascia become cross-linked and they bind to muscles and nerves, inhibiting normal motion and causing pain.

self-myofascial release, also known as “foam rolling,” has transformed from a once mysterious technique used only by professional athletes, coaches, and therapists to a familiar everyday practice for people at all levels of fitness. Recent information, technology, and affordable products have introduced an increasing array of training and recovery methods to the average person.

What Is a Foam Roller, How Do I Use It, and Why Does It Hurt?

Great Article by Jeff Kuhland

Self-myofascial release is a fancy term for self-massage to release muscle tightness or trigger points. This method can be performed with a foam roller, lacrosse ball, Theracane, or your own hands. By applying pressure to specific points on your body you are able to aid in the recovery of muscles and assist in returning them to normal function. Normal function means your muscles are elastic, healthy, and ready to perform at a moment’s notice.


Left photo: Calf bottom. Right photo: Calf top.

Do I Have Tight Muscles or Trigger Points?

Trigger points are specific “knots” that form in muscles. They are unique and can be identified because they will refer pain. Pain referral, for our purposes, can most easily be described as the pain felt when pressure is applied to one area of the body, but the pain is felt or radiated in another area.

A common example of a trigger point is felt while foam rolling your iliotibial (IT) band as it causes pain to radiate up to the hip or all the way down the leg to the ankle. When rolling or working on tight/sore muscles you will experience discomfort or pain. Think of it like the pain you get while stretching. It should be uncomfortable, but not unbearable, and when you are done it should feel better.


Left photo: Chest – front delt. Right photo: Lats.

Why Am I Doing Something That Hurts?

For many, deep tissue massage is easy to understand. Ideally, someone is able to work out the knots in your muscles, and it is commonly known this process may be uncomfortable and at times painful. The self-myofascial release provides the user the ability to control the healing and recovery process by applying pressure in precise locations because only you can feel exactly what is happening.

It is always recommended to consult with your physician or physical therapist for therapeutic/sharp pain and receive approval before starting self-myofascial release. For most people, you will be cleared immediately and your doctor will encourage the practice.

Releasing trigger points helps to reestablish proper movement patterns and pain-free movement, and ultimately, to enhance performance. Utilizing stretching alone is not always enough to release muscles tightness, which is why foam rollers have thrived on the mass market. Imagine a bungee cord with a knot tied into it and then envision stretching the cord. This creates tension, stretching the unknotted portion of the muscle and the attachment points. The knot, however, has remained unaltered.

Foam rolling can assist in breaking up these muscle knots, resuming normal blood flow and function. The goal of any corrective or recovery technique is to get you back to the point of normal functioning as if nothing was ever wrong. When was the last time you trained like you were a teenager, going hard without a second thought, and injuries were something that only happened due to physical trauma like a 250lb linebacker hitting you?


Left photo: Hip adductor. Right photo: Hip extensor – glute.

Left photo: Hip flexor. Right photo: Inner quad.

What Causes Trigger Points and Tight Muscles?

Both have the same contributing factors including training, flexibility, movement patterns, posture, nutrition, hydration, rest, stress, and other lifestyle factors. Our bodies learn to compensate for what we throw at them every day, but we can exceed our ability to recover via too many intense workouts, poor posture, and other lifestyle factors.

This is when you need assistance using recovery techniques or through seeing a professional. If you lived a perfect life with everything in balance, you would theoretically never have either of these conditions, however, I’ve yet to meet that person.

How Does Self-Myofascial Release Work?

Deep compression helps to break up or relax tight muscles and adhesions formed between muscle layers and their surroundings. Imagine you are tenderizing your own muscles. They should be soft and supple like a baby’s muscles. However, if our muscles are not taken care of properly we can experience loss of flexibility, adhesions, and painful movement.


The deep compression of self-myofascial release allows normal blood flow to return and the restoration of healthy tissue. The body naturally wants to be healthy and strong, but sometimes an extra boost is needed to achieve optimal muscle and tissue health.


Left photo: IT band bottom. Right photo: IT band top.

Here’s the Link for Foam Rollers

Self Myofascial Release Techniques

Great Article by Michael Clark, MS, PT, PES, CSCS, and Alan Russell, ATC, NASM-PES, CSCS

Would you believe that your client’s function could be improved for less than $20?

Sound too good to be true? By performing Self-Myofascial Release techniques on a simple piece of foam, your clients can improve flexibility, function, performance, and reduce injuries. In a nutshell, your clients use their own body weight to roll on the round foam roll, massaging away restrictions to normal soft-tissue extensibility. And your clients can perform this program at home, maximizing their recovery time.

Kinetic Chain Concepts

For the health and fitness professional to understand how this “magical” foam roll does all that, a basic understanding of the kinetic chain must be acknowledged. The kinetic chain is made up of the soft tissue system (muscle, tendon, ligament, and fascia), neural system (nerves and CNS), and articular system (joints)6. The kinetic chain works as an integrated functional unit. All components of the kinetic chain exist interdependently. If one segment is not functioning efficiently, then the other components must compensate, leading to tissue overload, fatigue, faulty movement patterns, and finally initiates the Cumulative Injury Cycle3,5,10,12.

For example, muscle tightness restricts the range of motion that a joint may be moved. Because of muscle restriction (tightness, soft tissue adhesions, and neural-hyperactivity), joint motion is altered, thus changing normal neural feedback to the CNS (central nervous system). Ultimately, neuromuscular efficiency is compromised, which leads to poor movement patterns, inducing premature fatigue and causing injury. The SMFR (Self-Myofascial Release) Program helps your clients improve muscular balance and performance.

Benefits of Self-Myofascial Release4

• Corrects muscle imbalances
• Improves joint range of motion
• Relieves muscle soreness and joint stress
• Decreases neuromuscular hypertonicity
• Increases extensibility of musculotendinous junction
• Improves neuromuscular efficiency
• Maintains normal functional muscular length

How Does it Work?

A simple review of neuromuscular anatomy is required to apply the neurophysiological concepts. Two basic neural receptors are located in skeletal muscle tissue. These receptors are the muscle spindle and the Golgi tendon organ. Muscle Spindles are located parallel to the muscle fibers. They record changes in fiber length, and rate of change to the CNS5,9. This triggers the myotatic stretch reflex, which reflexively shortens muscle tissue, alters the normal length-tension relationship, and often induces pain1,2,5. Golgi Tendon Organs (GTO) are located at the musculotendinous junction. They are sensitive to change in tension and rate of tension change2,5,7,8. Stimulation of the GTO’s past a certain threshold inhibits the muscle spindle activity and decreases muscular tension. This phenomenon is referred to as autogenic inhibition2,4,7,11. It is said to be “autogenic” because the contracting agonist is inhibited by its’ own receptors. Reduction in soft-tissue tension decreases pain, restores normal muscle length-tension relationships, and improves function.

General Guidelines

The health and fitness professional should be proficient in these techniques prior to client instruction.

Hold each position 1-2 minutes for each side (when applicable). If pain is reported, stop rolling and REST on the painful areas for 30-45 seconds.

• Continuing to roll when pain is present activates the muscle spindles, causing increased tightness and pain.

• Resting 30-45 seconds on painful areas will stimulate the GTO and automatically inhibit the muscle spindles; reducing muscular tension and will help regulate fascial receptors. Maintain proper Draw-In Position, which provides stability to the lumbopelvic-hip complex during rolling. Clients can perform SMFR Program 1-2 times daily.

Specific Self-Myofascial Release Techniques

Iliotibial Tract (IT Band)
Position yourself side-lying on the foam roller. The bottom leg is raised slightly off the floor. Maintain head in “neutral” with ears aligned with shoulders. Roll just below the hip joint down the lateral thigh to the knee.Piriformis
Begin positioned as shown with foot crossed to opposite knee. Roll on the posterior hip area. Increase the stretch by pulling the knee toward the opposite shoulder.

Place hamstrings on the roll with hips unsupported. Feet are crossed to increase leverage. Roll from the knee toward the posterior hip while keeping the quadriceps tightened. Quadriceps
The body is positioned prone with quadriceps on a foam roller. It is very important to maintain proper Core control (abdominal Drawn-In position & tight gluteals) to prevent low back compensations. Roll from pelvic bone to knee, emphasizing the lateral thigh.

Tensor Fascia Latae (TFL)
Position the body as described above. The foam roll is placed just lateral to the anterior pelvic bone (ASIS).

Extend the thigh and place foam roll in the groin region with body prone on the floor. Be cautious when rolling near the adductor complex origins at the pelvis.

Position yourself side-lying with arm outstretched and foam roll placed in the axillary area. Thumb is pointed up to pre-stretch the latissumus Dorsi muscle. Movement during this technique is minimal.

Cross arms to the opposite shoulder to clear the shoulder blades across the thoracic wall. While maintaining abdominal Draw-In position, raise hips until unsupported. Also, stabilize the head in “neutral.” Roll mid-back area on the foam.

Choosing a Foam Roller

When choosing a foam roll, product density is very important. If the foam is too soft, less than adequate tissue massage is applied. On the other hand, if the foam is too hard, bruising and more advanced soft-tissue trauma may occur, leading to further restriction, initiation of the inflammatory process, decreased range of motion, pain, and decreased performance.


The SMFR Program can help your clients reach their health and fitness goals. Simply by using their own body weight on the rolls, they’ll be reducing pain and tension, and restoring normal muscle length and balance. Optimum muscle balance helps to provide optimum joint motion leading to optimum performance.

Try it yourself, and help your clients reach their fitness goals. You will be AMAZED!

Suggested Readings

• Integrated Training for the New Millennium, NASM. 2000
• NASM Optimum Performance Training for the Performance Enhancement Specialist educational course
• Clark MA, Russell AM: Low back pain: A functional perspective.
• Corn R: Neurologic rationale for integrated training.


1. Alter MJ: Science of Flexibility. Second Edition. Human Kinetics. 1996

2. Basmanjian JV (3rd ed): Therapeutic Exercise. Williams and Wilkins, Baltimore. 1978

3. Chaitow L: Muscle Energy Techniques. New York, Churchill Livingstone. 1997

4. Clark MA: Integrated Training for the New Millennium. NASM, Thousand Oaks. 2000

5. Downey J, Darling R: Physiological Basis of Rehabilitation Medicine. WB Saunders, Philadelphia. 1971

6. Grigg P: Peripheral neural mechanisms in proprioception. J. Sports. Rehab. 3:2-17, 1994

7. Gummerson T: Mobility Training for the Martial Arts. A & C Black. 1990

8. Liebenson C: Rehabilitation of the Spine – A Practitioners Manual. Williams and Wilkins. 1995

9. Sady SP, Wortman M, Blanke D: Flexibility training: ballistic, static, or proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation? Arch. Phys. Med. Rehabil. Jun:63(6): 261-262. 1982

10. Selye H: The Stress of Life. McGraw-Hill, New York. 1984

PRO Massage by Nicola. LMT
PRO Massage by Nicola. LMT

*Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider.
Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.
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