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“Self myofascial release” (SMR) is a popular intervention that many athletes use as a form of self-treatment for areas of muscle tightness, to assist with recovery and as part of a pre-match warm up.  Most athletes are familiar with foam rollers and spikey balls for this purpose, and they can be a valuable adjunct to physio or massage treatment, although some people probably classify them as torture devices!  Despite the popularity of these tools, and the obvious clinical benefits that we see with their use, there is a lot of debate in the research about the actual way that they work, and also what is the ideal length of time that they should be used.

In a recent systematic review of the SMR literature, the findings were that as a pre-activity “warm up”, or to increase joint range of movement, the benefits of SMR can be seen with as little as 30-60 seconds of treatment to one muscle group at a relatively fast rate, repeated 2-5 times.  This has been shown to improve joint range, but importantly not reduce the power/output of the muscles targeted.

For recovery, and to reduce “Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness” or DOMS, it seems that between 10-30 minutes of treatment to the affected muscles per day has the best outcome.

The question of what is happening underneath the RockNRoller or RockBalls within the tissues remains controversial.  One theory is that the effects are related to improvements in the sliding ability between tissue layers.  Another is that it may be due to increased temperature and blood flow in the target tissue, whilst some believe that the effects are likely to be related to changes in the nerves firing to and from the brain, and that the brain subsequently “allows” the tissues to move more freely.  It is likely that the exact benefits will be partly attributable to all of these theories.

So it appears that if you are using your RockNRoller or RockBalls before exercise, shorter duration time and faster rates of movement could be the most effective.  However, for recovery after exercise, slower movements over a longer duration could be the way to go.  The fact that the treatment rate could be important would lend itself to a more neural reason for the benefits seen and felt, given that the mechanoreceptors within the tissues respond to different rates of pressure/load.

Come along to a Movability course to find out more about SMR techniques and where these techniques fit into the Rocktape Movement Pyramid.  The Pyramid provides practitioners with a framework of techniques to ensure that movement dysfunctions are identified, interventions applied, and changes locked in.

Cheatham, S.W., Kolber, M.J., Cain, M., & Lee, M. (2015). The effects of self-myofascial release using a foam roll or roller massager on joint range of motion, muscle recovery, and performance: a systematic review. The International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy 10 (6) 827-838.