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SMFR for the legs

Self Myofascial Release (SMFR) routine for the legs

SMFR for the legs

The following techniques relate to a leg routine the author developed for use on his legs and self-maintenance activities. Although the author has always been highly active, he has never particularly enjoyed normal stretching activities. However, he does appreciate the need for stretching as part of a self-maintenance routine. The techniques discussed in the article originate from specific sports and remedial massage therapy techniques, adapted to utilise low-cost therapy tools (massage stick, spiky massage ball). As a runner, the author finds these techniques were well after a run and warm-down. However, the methods should work well for other sports using the legs and even general leg tension from sitting or standing for prolonged periods at work.

This article looks at different types of self-myofascial release techniques. As a runner, musculoskeletal professional, soft-tissue therapist and educator, the author has developed these self-maintenance leg routine techniques over many years. These techniques have proved highly effective, in part because the author understands how one can use these tools to apply specific myofascial release techniques in a self-treatment context. Although these techniques work exceptionally well on the legs, they are not suitable for other areas of the body. Other advantages of these techniques are that they use relatively small, lightweight, inexpensive tools, have no batteries, and are easy to do in a sitting or lying position.

Importantly, there are occasions where treatment using myofascial release techniques may not be suitable or advisable (contraindicated), which is something the untrained are likely to know. Contraindications can be global, meaning that a method should not be used at all or local, meaning it might be possible to apply a technique to some areas of the body but not others. Before commencing any fitness or stretching activities, particularly self-myofascial release techniques, one should be sure they are safe. Hence, if one has any contraindications to massage or myofascial release techniques, then self-treatment using the methods listed in the article is inadvisable. If in doubt, speak to a suitably qualified professional and get advice before commencing with these self-treatment methods.

SMFR tools and techniques

There are many popular videos on social media demonstrating self-myofascial release techniques. It is important to remember that anybody can make and post videos on social media, regardless of their training, education, or even understanding of basic anatomy, physiology, and the basis of myofascial release techniques. Equally, it is essential to realise that many different myofascial release techniques exist. Myofascial release techniques are like "tools" in the therapist's "toolbox". Part of the therapist's skill lies in knowing when to apply or avoid any specific "tool" and in what situation. Many social media videos demonstrate the use of individual "tools", such as foam rollers, massage balls, spiky massage balls, etc., to treat the entire body. Unfortunately, there is no one "tool" that fits all, and this is why soft tissue therapists learn multiple techniques.

Furthermore, not only does each "tool" have limitations even when used by a trained therapist, but even more so in a self-treatment context. Applying techniques correctly and effectively in a self-treatment context can be challenging due to physical positioning and the effect this has on the tissues under treatment and elsewhere. Hence, it makes sense to utilise different "tools" or self-myofascial release techniques for different situations, much like a professionally trained therapist would. It is best not to assume that just because a technique works well in one area, it will work well in other areas of the body, though people always seem tempted to try it. Even with the author's knowledge, there are many areas of the body that he cannot treat in a self-treatment context. As good as self-maintenance can be, sometimes we need a little outside and professional help, which is essential to understand.

Massage Stick - Stick Roller

Self-Myofascial Release with Massage Stick - Stick Roller

There are many shapes of massage sticks or stick rollers, much like foam rollers. Some massage stick rollers are flexible, some have neoprene over the rollers, some are rock hard, and others have different-sized and moveable rollers. Personally, the author prefers a relatively non-flexible and straightforward massage stick roller. Be warned if you have hairy legs, and use the massage stick roller on bare skin, as some products have tightly packed individual rollers, which work like a type of epilator. Foam rollers and massage sticks have a lot in common in that they both try to replicate petrissage massage, which includes squeezing and stripping actions. Massage training teaches massage therapists to apply these actions towards the heart, as the stripping actions push blood flow through tiny one-way valves within the veins. Varicose veins are an excellent example of what happens when these miniature one-way valves within the veins become damaged.

It is easy to treat the quadriceps muscles very effectively with a massage stick, as it is possible to treat soft tissues in a relaxed or semi-relaxed state. Usually, if one were trying to treat the quadriceps with a foam roller, this would involve laying in a prone (face down) position and tends to result in the quadriceps being under tension. Logically, a massage therapist would not attempt to perform a "stripping" type technique on the quadriceps of somebody who was tensing them, as it would be excruciating.

Spiky Massage Balls

Self-Myofascial Release with Spiky Massage Balls

As with the foam rollers and massage stick rollers, there are many varieties and shapes of spiky massage balls. Some spiky balls have cone-shaped spikes, and others have cylindrical ones. Massage balls also come in various sizes, shapes and levels of firmness. The author uses a firm, roughly 8cm diameter spiky massage ball with cone-shaped spikes. Such a design works well for applying a "soft tissue lock", which is relevant in a self-treatment context. There are many videos on social media of people using spiky massage balls in what appears to be some form of trigger point therapy. The following link has more details on what myofascial trigger points (TrPs) are and their relevance. Even just placing a normal massage ball in an area of pain and then applying loads of bodyweight pressure to the tissues is only likely to result in further tissue trauma, possible bruising and further symptom irritation. Employing the same method with a spiky massage ball makes even less sense, though a spiky massage ball can be useful for soft tissue release (STR).

Self-soft tissue release (SMFR) uses the spiky massage ball in a completely different way to trigger point therapy (TPT). Soft Tissue Release - STR works by the therapist creating a musculocutaneous soft tissue lock and then applying a form of either active or passive stretch to the tissues under treatment. Using the spikes on the massage ball to achieve a similar soft tissue lock is achievable in a self-treatment context.

This article and the other related ones involve using a "massage stick or stick roller" and a "spiky massage ball". It is possible to use a massage stick in a general myofascial release way (using a stripping-type technique) on the quads, much like a foam roller, though much more comfortably. A spiky massage ball works more effectively for soft tissue release on the hamstrings and calf muscles. The links below demonstrate the techniques.

The article was written by Terry Davis MChiro, BSc (Hons), Adv. Dip. Rem. Massag., Cert. WHS.

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About the Author

As of December 31st 2020, the author chose to leave the Chiropractic profession due to a planned move back to Australia, where his training and education are not recognised. Terry no longer works as a Chiropractor and works as a Myotherapist in Morningside, Brisbane. He developed an early interest in soft tissue therapy techniques and advanced myofascial release methods in 2006 for treating various conditions. Terry's interests in human performance and trauma have naturally led to him developing a specialism in treating work and sports-related musculoskeletal injuries and Chronic Pain symptoms.

The author possesses an unusual background for somebody who trained in the McTimoney Chiropractic technique. His education, training, and practical experience span over two decades and relate to health's physical and mental aspects. He also needed to push his body and mind to the limits of physical and psychological endurance as part of his time serving in Britain's elite military forces. His education includes a bachelor of science degree in Business Management, with a specialisation in psychology and mental health in the workplace, an Integrated Masters in Chiropractic, MChiro and a multitude of soft-tissue therapy qualifications (see the about section for more details). His soft tissue qualifications range from certificate level right through to a BTEC Level 5 Advanced Diploma in Clinical Sports and Remedial Massage Therapy. He has also taught as a senior course coach at the Advanced Diploma level (Myotherapy / Musculoskeletal Therapy) in Australia, both theoretical and practical aspects, including advanced Myofascial Release Techniques and has certification in training and assessment. Terry will have taught many of the first students to train as Myotherapists in Brisbane. Terry's combination of knowledge through education, training, elite military service, and personal injury history has paid dividends for the patients he sees and has treated over the last 16 years. Terry is still extremely active and enjoys distance running, kayaking, mountain biking and endurance-type activities.