You travel to your favorite hiking destination only to see a man in the distance about to bungee jump off of a cliff. You aren’t worried since you know the elastic response of the bungee will bring him right back up. Another man next to him ties a paracord rope around his waist and also jumps. “THAT’S SUICIDE!”, you exclaim with horror. But this is the case when our soft tissue networks are tight. That’s right; the guillotine in this situation is soft tissue. But don’t think that since it has “soft” in the name it doesn’t cause loads of problems. Soft tissue injuries are involved in everything from repetitive use strain to chronic pain. But how can this belligerent beast be managed? The simple answer: in the very same way you brush your teeth. But instead of toothpaste, the new whitening agent of the new age is called “myofascial release.”
Myowhatnow? Fascia is the soft and connective tissue networks in the body the surrounds muscle, organs, and acts as the main line of communication for the body aside from the nervous system. And don’t get the idea that it’s bad: it is a beautiful intertwining of tissues and fibers that allows our bodies to move in the vast ways that it can. “Myo” refers to muscle, in this case the soft tissues related to movement and muscle connectivity. You may have heard of knots in your muscle from your friendly neighborhood masseuse, or trigger points as they are often called. These trigger points are bundled up tissues as a result of mental stress, bad posture, overuse (doing too much) or underuse (being sedentary or doing too little) of muscles, injury, poor diet and hormonal imbalances.
How do these trigger points and soft tissue “hiccups” affect us? Visualize the soft tissue surrounding an intertwining helix of nerves, blood vessels and muscle. If the soft tissue develops tightness and/or trigger points, it is quite easy for the nervous system and vascular system to suffer as a result. Pain can be referred to local or distal areas, blood flow can be inhibited, and movement can become restricted. With poor movement ability, posture can be distorted and when movement eventually does occur, muscles will take on jobs they are not supposed to and the “energy” in movement transfer leaks like a car with an oil spring. This leads to more dysfunction and eventually can lead to injury and functional decline, creating what is known as an injury cycle. A lack of being able to move correctly or getting injured can lead to depression and will negatively affect daily life in endless variations.
If one desires to truly be healthy in all aspects of fitness, we must break this injury cycle. How you ask? By breaking up the fascia. Not literally like glass, but through compression and massage. Sounding like a spa day already? What is even better is that you can do it yourself, every day, for free. All one needs to do is invest in a foam roller, tennis or lacrosse ball, a PVC pipe, or products from companies such as Trigger Point Performance Therapy. Once one obtains, for example, a tennis ball, self-myofascial release is within thy grasp. Simply find a muscle, compress, and go to work.
Let’s take the muscles of the pectoralis major and minor (the chest muscles) for instance. These muscles are often tight from a hunched over posture. Place three fingers horizontally below the far end of your clavicle (the collarbone) and place a tennis ball beneath the third finger. This is where you want the ball: so take both hands on top of it or lean against a wall and go to work. While applying compression, move the ball around the pecs slowly or hold for 30 seconds. Make sure to breathe deeply through all movements to stimulate a relaxation effect (your muscles can tense if you are due to the integration of survival mechanisms). Even move the arm around to expose more muscle. Go through pivoting, dragging and scrubbing motions as if cleaning dirt off of a dish. This will hurt since fascial tightness can cause inflammation and nerve impingement, but the reward is priceless. After you feel you’ve done enough, remove compression and move your arm around to feel your new range of motion. You can do this before a workout (a little bit faster as a warm up) and after (a little bit slower as recovery).
This technique can be carried over to other muscle groups. Aim for major ones, such as the quadriceps, the calves, the upper back and abdominals. Look up muscle anatomy, find the thickest part (or belly) of a muscle, and explore your fascia from there. To dig deeper, simply do what the muscle does: movement in all three planes of motion. Before you know it, daily maintenance will lead to less stress, reduced risk of injury, pain management, postural correction, full body functionality and a younger feel of muscular elasticity.