Like many of you reading this blog, I’m a new mom. My husband and I welcomed our beautiful baby Harris in March. It’s an amazing experience, but the 9 months of extra weight, lack of exercise, and hormones left me more prone to injury. Now, caring for a 5 month old with all the repetitive strain, I find myself experiencing all kinds of strange aches and pains.
Sometimes we need to be seen by a professional to determine the cause and receive treatment. Other times, we can do some self care to alleviate the symptoms as well as prevent them. Exercise and a healthy lifestyle are essential but it’s hard when pain gets in the way. Let’s talk about some ways to help prevent and alleviate muscle pain that many of us new moms experience.
In this article, I will teach you about self myofascial release (SMR). I describe what fascia is and its role in the wellbeing of your muscles, what fascial adhesions do to your body, and what you can do at home to get some relief for your muscle aches.
What is fascia?
Fascia is a thin layer of connective tissue that provides support and holds our muscles, bones and nerves together. It is a saran wrap-like tissue that also allows our body tissues to glide over one another smoothly without friction when we are moving.
For many years rehabilitation scientists have overlooked fascia as a source of pain and discomfort. Fascia is an almost invisible tissue and is less abundant than muscle and bone, which have been the focus of physical therapies.
Scientific literature on the importance of fascia in injury prevention and rehabilitation is just emerging. It is changing the way rehabilitation specialists think about and understand injuries.
Many of us experience pain and discomfort from overuse injuries, stresses and strains that don’t heal properly. This leads to tears in the fascia. These tears can lead to adhesions, popularly called “knots” or trigger points.
These “knots” limit your mobility by limiting the smooth movement and gliding of your body tissues over one another. This can result in tight muscles, reduced range of movement, and sometimes pain.
Releasing the adhesions
The adhesions are released by applying various types of pressure to the affected areas. By massaging the “knots” we can break down the adhesions. The surrounded structures will then free up and move smoothly again.
Additional benefits include: loosened muscle tension, increased flexibility, reduced post-exercise soreness (DOMS, by increasing blood flow), injury prevention, and alleviated stress in body, allowing us to overall function better.
Health care professionals are trained in a number of special techniques to release myofascial adhesions, but there are a few SMR tricks you can do at home.
What you can do at home
You can find various types of tools to use for SMR. From rollers and balls, to various hooks and sticks, the choices are seemingly endless. However, here are a few things I’ve found most effective:
The foam roller is the ubiquitous tool for SMR. These rollers come in various sizes and you basically lie on them on the floor and use your body weight to apply pressure to the affected knotted area. Use your hands to lift yourself off the floor to control the pressure.
Tennis or lacrosse ball
This is probably my favourite way for SMR because you can really pinpoint the source of the pain and apply pressure. There are many ways to use the ball. You can put it on the floor and then put your body on top. You can hold it in your hand and apply pressure that way. You can also put it against a wall and lean into it. I like the lacrosse ball the best because is a bit harder than the tennis ball and easier to navigate on the skin.
There are many commercial rolling sticks for SMR, such as The Stick and Tiger Tail. You can use these to seek out the trigger points and apply pressure to them. There are also non-commercial options. For many years my husband used my rolling pin from the kitchen. I told him to keep it.
I actually love just using my elbows for SMR. They are really good to feel out the knots and apply just the right amount of pressure. The only drawback is that what you can reach with your elbows on your own body is limited.
What to do
Using a foam roller, small ball, or your choice of technique, feel around your muscles looking for a “hot spot”. These hot spots are the knots I talked about earlier. You will know you’ve found a hot spot because you’ll feel it. It hurts! Or it’ll be uncomfortable to put pressure on it. Often you will physically feel a knot or the muscle will feel denser.
Stop and apply as much pressure as you can tolerate and hold the position for 10-20 seconds, and then rest. You will find the “pain” subsides as you hold the position. Do this for several minutes on each hot spot you find.
It is the pressure that helps release the tension, not the rolling. You may find that you’ll be a bit sore in these areas the next day, but that pain should subside. After a few days repeat the process and you’ll find that the spots are a little less tender and the muscles looser.
A few words of caution
Always consult a health care professional before commencing a new exercise program. You will want to avoid causing any injuries or exacerbating existing ones with these SMR techniques. If you are not sure whether you have an injury consult with a healthcare professional.
Important things to keep in mind if you are new to SMR:
- Avoid applying pressure over bones and tendons, only target muscles (e.g., over the spine)
- Avoid applying extreme pressure and for long periods
If you are not sure about any of the techniques I’ve described above, you can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would be happy to provide you with further guidance.
When to see a physiotherapist
If you have been in pain for a while, and SMR is not having a good effect, a physiotherapist can really help. Getting assessed and diagnosed to determine the root of the problem can help you understand the structures at fault and how you can help in the recovery process to get moving again. Physiotherapists are trained in various forms of manual therapy and other modalities which can help your body heal itself. We prescribe exercises for you to complete at home to maintain your progress and achieve further gains.
In my next post, I’ll teach you different techniques and tools for SMR and how you can incorporate them into your regular exercise routine for additional benefits.
About the author:
Mira Jindani is an Edmonton physiotherapist at the Whyte Ave Sport and Spine clinic. She has a Masters of Science in Physical Therapy from the University of Alberta, and has been practicing since 2008.