What is self-myofascial release?

It’s a great questions to which you will get many answers these days. Traditionally SMR is quite simple a way to relax contracted muscles, improve blood and lymphatic flow and stimulate the stretch reflex in muscles. Now, this seems simple enough a definition, yet it doesn’t ask a more important question: How does self-myofascial release actually work?

Perhaps an even more important question contextually is: How does a person successfully get the intended results of self-administered myofascial release?

From my understanding, science can’t really explain the why or the how. So, if you are going to explain self-myofascial release, you have to first understand what is a stretch reflex—or better yet, what is a reflex in the first place.

It turns out there are reflexive behaviors in the human body that have gone undefined altogether. Damn science brain of mine. I can’t even come up with simple answers. Though, it’s one reason I’m so good at this one thing – helping people get out of pain. I get reflexes. I get how to alter neurological responsiveness. Therefore I can help most people with most issues relating to pain symptoms that don’t seem to go away with rest, ice, exercise, or altering diet.

The answer is simple, but not so obvious

So what question should I answer or educate you on today? Let’s tackle the stretch reflex. Let’s make this simple to start: when you pull on a muscle, for example if you extend your leg in a straddle position sitting on the floor, lean forward and feel a “pulling sensation” in the back of your leg, most people call that a stretch. I beg to differ. In fact, it’s a myotatic reflex where your muscle is actually contracting in response to your pulling. This is where it gets tricky. This sends a singular response called a “monosynaptic” reflex into action. Basically, that’s the response that opens a neural pathway to control the initial reflex so the brain really doesn’t have to get involved too much or react to the pull. Instead, there is only response from sensory nerves (found in your connective tissue) to the spinal cord. It quite quickly activates tiny spinal motor neurons that react immediately to the muscles yet don’t delay the signals to the brain so you actually feel what’s going on. Problem is, how you actually react to the signal you feel. If you pull harder, it can hurt you. If you ease off, the reflex actually stops and things settle down.  

There are different ways your body reacts through reflexive behavior. Monosynaptic =  a single chemical response. There are many names used for this type of reflex, those found in the knee, ankle and even deep muscle spindles. Yet there is also a polysynaptic reflex pathway where truly afferent (sensory) to efferent (motor) signals are initiated.  These are more obvious reflexes. For example, hit your patella and your knee extends involuntarily. That’s a poly response. But the ones you miss are the monosynaptic responses, which are very responsive to habitual postures, repetitive movements, and are silent stressors of our movement performance.

melt roller

Why mash when you can MELT?

 Have I gone over your head? Gosh, I hope people who are barking about the “mash your fascia” craze thinking you have to repeatedly inflict pain to make gains or have your body change are reading this. If you had a single idea about reflexes you would change your tune.

Listen. When you go to see a really amazing body worker to alleviate pain symptoms, some things… SOME things will actually sometimes not feel so great. It may even be subtly painful. But not EVERYTHING a manual therapist does is done with a heavy hand AND, if you ask great therapists how they achieve great results I am sure the best of the best would never say, “by beating my client into submission and causing them so much pain their brain forgets about the little pain in their knee.” And if you have a therapist that says something like this, punch them as hard as you can in the breast or penis and ask them why on earth they would purposely inflict pain just to inflict pain. And then walk out of their office and call me.

So back to the first question: What is self-myofascial release?

In today’s era I’d say it’s nothing more than self massage performed by rolling a ball or roller under a desired body part or muscle with the goal of increasing flexibility and decrease muscle adhesions. That being said, what on earth is a muscle adhesion?

Damn. I could blog for a year and with each blog, I get another. Just FYI, it’s not muscle adhesions. It’s fascial adhesions and the muscles are merely reacting to an issue in the connective tissue.

I’m done blogging for today. I’m going to MELT… and feel better without inflicting pain upon myself.


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