Self massage, also called self-myofascial release has become a standard practice in the fitness, rehab and sports performance community for good reason. The repetitive stress of exercise and training can take a toll on muscles and connective tissues like ligaments and tendons. Painful muscle tissue (trigger points) can restrict full muscle function leading to decreases in muscle length/flexibility and strength. Poor muscle function also means poor joint control (tendon/ligament pain). It’s a slippery slope
How does it work?
Applying pressure to muscles increases the movement of fluids like blood/lymph, this can be beneficial if there is soft tissue trauma and edema/inflammation. Muscle soreness from exercise/training is due to micro trauma (inflammation) within muscle cells, self massage is one intervention that can aid in the recovery of exercise soreness.
Injured muscle tissue can also become stiff due to spasm, trigger points and mechanical tissue stiffness called adhesions. The formation of scar tissue is a natural component of how the body repairs damaged soft tissues. The adhesions within muscle tissue/fascia can restrict muscle length (flexibility). Self massage can alter the mechanical property of soft tissue by relaxing muscle spasms and “releasing” restricted tissue (scar/trigger points) this leads to better range of motion/flexibility.
Pressure also stimulates the nerve receptors in the skin, muscles, tendons and ligaments. Muscles spasms and the experience of pain is a nervous system phenomenon that is part of a feedback loop communication system. Massage stimulates these nerve receptors altering the signal (pain/spasm) sent to the brain/spinal cord this in turn alters the muscle tone either decreasing/increasing.
Muscle weakness is common with muscle spasms and pain even if the spasm/pain is on a low level. A muscle contracts by generating force via nervous system activation. With spams, trigger points and pain the nervous system activation of the injured muscle will be diminished. Self massage can be very effective at restoring muscle strength that has been compromised due to nervous system inhibition.
Pain and associated muscle dysfunction is a complex process that effects numerous body systems. In addition to the physical experience of pain there is emotional and cognitive experience of pain and limited mobility that can overshadow the physical process. When I teach someone self massage I am giving them self care tools that are empowering and proactive.“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”