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Benefits of Myofascial Release & Foam Rolling (2020)

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The benefits of myofascial release are often associated with athletes, but they’re certainly not limited to those who participate in competitive sports. 

You’ll find that myofascial release can be used as part of your overall self care routine when performed after any form of exercise, as well as for any physical soreness. 

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What is Myofascial Release?

Myofascial release is a physical therapy form that is incredibly useful in treating the pain that is brought about by ‘myofascial pain syndrome’. 

This in itself is a chronic pain condition caused by the ‘trigger points’ (knots) within the muscles being placed under pressures and strains during physical activity. 

Benefits of myofascial release foam roller

The aim of a myofascial release massage is to ease the pain that is being experienced due to tightness or tension within these trigger points, by massaging the muscles and myofascial tissues (‘fascia’) that house them. 

While it’s incredibly difficult to determine the exact location of the trigger points that are causing the pain, the benefits of myofascial release include the fact that it is still effective when applied over a large area of muscle and tissue. 

In case you want to take a more scientific approach, check out this definition from the International Journal of Health Sciences and Research

Myofascial release (MFR) refers to the manual massage technique for stretching the fascia and releasing bonds between fascia and integuments, muscles, bones, with the goal of eliminating pain, increasing range of motion and balancing the body.

The fascia is manipulated, directly or indirectly, allowing the connective tissue fibers to reorganize themselves in to a more flexible, functional fashion.

The Benefits of Myofascial Release

1. Reduces pain and discomfort

Myofascial release benefits

As you might have guessed, one of the main benefits of myofascial release therapy is that it reduces pain and discomfort in patients who are experiencing this post-exercise. The benefits of sports massage compared to those of MFR are similar in this sense. 

Whether the pain is due to myofascial pain syndrome or a more acute/temporary pain, MFR is a well-known and effective way of alleviating it. 

The pain relief is achieved by massaging the ‘fascia’, which are the connective tissues that surround and separate the muscles (as well as the internal organs). 

Through this action, the muscles are also massaged and stimulated, and the trigger points within them are given a literal ‘release’ from the pressure that they’ve been under. 

Sometimes, it can be difficult to locate these trigger points (even if you’re a health and fitness professional), which is why a holistic area of muscle is massaged. 

The act of massaging itself improves blood flow and overall circulation to the muscles and the fascia, which aids in reducing pain by providing these areas with oxygen and the essential nutrients that they need in order to function well, and for any damaged fibres or cells to be repaired. 

 

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Another aspect of pain relief that MFR provides is heightened ‘proprioception’, which is described in the Oxford dictionary as:

Perception or awareness of the position and movement of the body. 

When an individual is injured, they often experience a decrease in proprioception, which means that they aren’t as ‘in tune’ with their body as they usually would be. This can then affect their overall coordination and lead to further injury if this imbalance goes untreated. 

Through MFR, an individual can gain a greater sense of control over their body, and even experience additional pain relief through identifying areas that they feel they are less in control of following an injury. 

Want to learn more about how different methods of physical therapy can help to reduce pain? Check out our article; what is electrotherapy?, to find out how this method works, and more about the pain gate theory! 

2. Boosts circulation 

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As we mentioned above, it’s no surprise that a myofascial release massage will help to boost blood circulation in the areas that are being activated during the therapy. 

While the therapist massages the fascia surrounding the muscles that are experiencing pain and discomfort, they are actively ridding the area of any ‘knots’ or tightness that has occurred due to physical activity. The same goes for self-myofascial release when it is performed correctly. 

These ‘knots’ or problem areas are generally the cause behind limited vascular function, which in turn causes added muscle tension and pain. They act as a blockage within the fascia, and restrict the flow of fluid to the muscles, which also starves them of the oxygen and nutrients that they need to function correctly. 

Once this tension is released through massage therapy and the knots within the fascia are loosened, the overall circulation within the area is improved and the muscles are able to heal much faster than they would otherwise. 

Good circulation is something that everyone should maintain whether they’re injured or not, and myofascial release can help to improve this holistically for those who exercise regularly. 

The benefits of good circulation include healthier muscles and organs thanks to improved blood and oxygen flow as well as waste removal, better immunity since the white blood cells that belong to the immune system are able to travel around the body with ease, and better overall health

NOTE: ever wondered how giving blood could affect your exercise routine? If so, check out OriGym's guide to exercise after giving blood

3. Enhances range of motion

Benefits of myofascial release massage

Most types of injuries sustained through physical activity will automatically result in a reduced range of motion (ROM), which can then last long after the initial pain has gone. 

This means that the individual who has sustained the injury must work on increasing their ROM before they can return to exercise. Otherwise, they could risk further injury to the area by overstretching or hyperextending it beyond the limited ROM that has been created post-injury. 

One of the biggest myofascial release benefits is that it’s an effective method of increasing the ROM of an injured area, and therefore a viable option when it comes to this side of injury rehabilitation! 

To support this idea, here’s a quote from Dr. Boyajian-O'Neill (Sports Medicine Specialist at University Of Health Sciences College Of Osteopathic Med): 

Myofascial techniques can restore range of motion and decrease pain, thus allowing for the earlier return of function. 

The goals of myofascial treatment include the relaxation of contracted muscles; increased circulation to an area of ischemia (often accompanying muscle spasm); increased venous and lymphatic drainage; and the stimulation of stretch reflexes in hypotonic muscles.

Each of the goals of myofascial release therapy contribute to improved mobility and range of motion in those that are struggling with muscle tension and decreased joint ROM after sustaining a physical injury. 

Not only this, but aside from the fact that MFR seeks to improve these aspects for individuals who are injured, it also helps to improve ROM and mobility pre-exercise. 

This means that those who oftenly participate in exercise can use myofascial release on a regular basis as part of their pre and post-exercise routine. This can aid their overall performance by increasing their ROM, and also prevent the development of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). Having a good warm-up routine can help an individual to steer clear of more serious injuries, and if you want to find out more about this, check out our article on how to prevent ACL injuries as a good example.

Corey Peacock (Ph.D) et al have conducted research on this topic, and state the following from their findings: 

The research suggests that both foam rolling and the roller massage may offer short‐term benefits for increasing sit and reach scores and joint ROM at the hip, knee, and ankle without affecting muscle performance.

These findings are good news for those looking for a way of increasing their ROM before completing physical exercise, particularly if they’re participating in competitive sports. 

Not only do the benefits of myofascial release aid those who are looking to improve their health and recovery, but they are also useful to those looking to boost their performance! 

4. Improves muscle function 

Myofascial release foam roller benefits

There are 5 main functions of skeletal muscle when it comes to physical exercise, which are as follows:

  • Mobility
  • Stability 
  • Respiration 
  • Postural support 
  • Circulation 

To summarise the function of skeletal muscle, it’s essentially the only muscle type that can be controlled by an individual’s mind, and is responsible for moving the bones that it is attached to (hence the name ‘skeletal muscle’).

It plays a huge role in keeping the body stable during movement, and also helps to keep it in an optimal postural position, which is important for anyone who wants their body to remain well-aligned and healthy.  

Skeletal muscle is literally responsible for generating the force that enables the body to move, which means that it's vital for anyone who completes exercise regularly to ensure that their muscles are functioning properly. 

One of the most notable benefits of myofascial release is improved skeletal muscle function, especially for individuals who are suffering due to an injury. 

Thanks to MFR making it possible for waste products to be drained from the muscles and the fascia surrounding them, as well as the fact that therapy has been known to tackle tightness and tension, it is a go-to treatment for those who are experiencing decreased muscle function. 

5. Helps to prevent and cure DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness)

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DOMS is something that we’ve all suffered from, and it’s certainly one of the biggest downsides to exercise. As if it isn’t difficult enough to find the motivation to begin a new exercise program! 

Fortunately for those who find that muscle soreness is something that they experience on a regular basis after completing a rigorous workout, there is a solution. One of the main myofascial release benefits includes its ability to not only speed up the recovery process, but to prevent this from happening in the first place. 

Whether you choose to go for a myofascial release massage, or you purchase your own foam roller so that you can try out self-myofascial release, you’ll never look back once you realise just how much of a difference this can make. 

To support our claims, we have a conclusion from a 2019 study conducted by Guillaume Laffaye (Ph.D) et al, that sought to measure the effectiveness of MFR in decreasing DOMS:

The self-myofascial release decreased DOMS by 50% for the massaged leg compared with 20% for the control leg and increased the hip range of motion by approximately 4.2% for the massaged leg in comparison with the unmassaged leg.

The results of this study show a positive trend that leans towards MFR being an effective treatment for DOMS in those who experience it after physical activity. They display its ability to improve the range of motion that is usually hindered by DOMS, as well as the overall soreness of the area.

Aside from this, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that MFR can prevent DOMS in the first place when it is performed regularly as part of a well-rounded warm up and cool down routine. Self-myofascial release is one of the most popular forms of self-massage, and many athletes use it regularly to prevent muscle soreness as well as curing it. 

Regular foam rolling is said to improve the flexibility of the hamstrings (which are one of the main muscles that it is used on), as well as the overall fatigue from physical activity that is felt in the area, which in turn prevents DOMS in the days after exercise. 

6. Releases tension and muscle knots 

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We mentioned this briefly earlier on in the article, but it’s true that one of the main benefits of myofascial release is that it’s one of the most effective ways of releasing the trigger points (also known as muscle knots) and tension.

This may sound like a simple point to make, but it’s the main goal in using MFR in the first place, and making yourself aware of this could save you from encountering a more serious case of myofascial pain syndrome further down the line. 

After all, trigger points tend to grow around injuries and become increasingly sensitive, especially when left untreated! 

Through MFR, you can lessen the tension within these trigger points and the larger muscle area that is being affected by them, and reduce the long-term damage that could unfold as you continue to exercise. 

In their 1983 book ‘The Trigger Point Manual’, Janet G. Travell and David G. Simons define trigger points as follows: 

A hyperirritable spot, usually within a taut band of skeletal muscle or in the muscle fascia. The spot is painful on compression and can give rise to characteristic referred pain, motor dysfunction, and autonomic phenomena.

It’s a good idea to understand this definition before opting for MFR or self-myofascial release as a method of alleviating muscle tension, especially since it will mean that you can see the importance of practising it regularly rather than as a one off when your muscles are particularly tight. 

Monitoring and treating these trigger points in the earlier stages of discomfort is the best way to reap all of the myofascial release benefits, which go hand in hand when best pratices are followed! 

Conclusion

We hope that you’ve found our list of the main benefits of myofascial release helpful, especially if you’re looking for simple ways to reduce muscle tension and improve your performance. 

Interested in pursuing a career in physical therapy? If so, be sure to check out our Myofascial Release CPD along with our guide on becoming a sports massage therapist to find out more about what a role in this area would look like!

You can also download our FREE prospectus here to see the wide range of fitness courses that we offer. 

References

  1. Shah, S. and Bhalara, A., 2012. Myofascial release. Inter J Health Sci Res, 2(2), pp.69-77.
  2. Lori A Boyajian-O’Neill DO, Dennis A Cardone DO, in The Sports Medicine Resource Manual, 2008
  3. Peacock CA, Krein DD, Antonio J, Sanders GJ, Silver TA, Colas M. Comparing Acute Bouts of Sagittal Plane Progression Foam Rolling vs. Frontal Plane Progression Foam Rolling. J Strength Cond Res. 2015;29(8):2310‐2315. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000000867
  4. Travell, J.G. and Simons, D.G., 1983. Myofascial pain and dysfunction: the trigger point manual (Vol. 2). Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

 

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Written by Chloe Twist

Fitness Content Manager, OriGym

Join Chloe on Facebook at the OriGym Facebook Group

Chloe graduated with a BA (Hons) English and Creative Writing from Liverpool John Moores University and prior to OriGym worked at J&R Digital Marketing Agency on the Liverpool 'Female Founders' series. Since joining the company, she has become a qualified Personal Trainer and advanced Sports Nutrition Specialist. Chloe’s professional interests intersect content-development and the world of online fitness, especially across social media and YouTube, and Chloe has herself contributed pieces on fitness and weight loss to sites including the Daily Star and The Express. Outside her day-to-day role, Chloe enjoys playing the guitar, gaming and kettlebell training. 

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