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Massage Stick Self-Myofascial Release - legs

How to stretch the Quadriceps - SMFR

There are occasions where treatment using myofascial release techniques may not be suitable or advisable (contraindicated). 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 with any fitness or stretching activities and particularly self-myofascial release techniques, one should be sure it is safe. Hence, if one has any contraindications to massage or myofascial release techniques, then self-treatment using the methods listed in the article is not advisable. If in doubt, speak to a suitably qualified professional and get advice before commencing with any of these self-treatment methods. Also, it is advisable to read the more general article on Self Myofascial Release (SMFR) for legs if one has not already done so. The author has developed these methods from his detailed understanding and experience of using Soft Tissue Release - STR. He then adapted the technique to work in self-treatment context on his leg muscles. As a long-term runner the author has been using these techniques as part of his self-maintenance routine for over a decade.

Image of the Quadriceps muscles (left thigh) anterior view

Image of Quadriceps muscles (left thigh) anterior or front view.

Images produced with kind permission of from Essential Anatomy 5

(Copyright © 2018 - 2023 3D4Medical. All rights reserved.)

The above image is of the left leg, and the Quadriceps. It clearly shows the Rectus Femoris (middle thigh), Vastus Lateralis (outer thigh and right side of image) and Vastus Medialis (inner thigh and left side of the image). It is relatively easy to self-treat all three of these Quadricep muscle tissues using a massage stick roller. Although the author has found this technique to work exceptionally well on the Quadriceps, it is not suitable for the calf muscles, hamstrings or indeed the majority of the rest of the body. However, it is possible to treat the calves and hamstrings very effectively with a spiky massage ball and self-soft tissue release. Equally, there is little point in trying to use the massage stick roller on the TFL or ITB and tension here is usually a symptom of other issues within the musculoskeletal system. Furthermore, much like ligaments and tendons, the ITB is not a muscle, so why stretch it?

SMFR with a Massage Stick or Muscle Roller Stick

As with other SMFR tools, some tools are better than others when used in the correct context. Although there are many videos on social media demonstrating the use of massage sticks on a wide variety of body parts, they may have little effect. For example, treating the shoulders in a self-treatment context with a muscle roller stick is likely to be hugely ineffective, partly due to tense muscles and restrictions in angles and pressure one can achieve. Similarly, foam rollers have limitations of use due to tissues often being under tension while using the roller and tissue access restrictions due to the size and shape of the roller.

The advantage of using a massage stick roller over a foam roller on the quads is that one can treat the quads in a relaxed or semi-relaxed state, making the process more comfortable and effective. Typically, when one uses a foam roller on the quads, one will be adopting a prone, press-up type position and the quads are generally under load (contracted/tense). Both foam rollers and massage stick rollers have origins in a myofascial massage technique called stripping. The application of any myofascial stripping technique to tense or contracted muscles is usually extremely uncomfortable. Hence, a good massage therapist would work with tissues on the patient's body in a relaxed or semi-relaxed state, working with the body rather than against it. Myofascial Trigger Points MTrP's, also have relevance when using a massage stick roller.

What the author particularly likes about the massage stick rollers is that one can use these effectively on the quadriceps for self-myofascial release (SMFR) and without the tissues being under load. As per the above diagram, one can simply sit on a chair, bench or similar with the knees bent at around ninety degrees. It is then a simple case of extending (straightening) the leg that is to be treated to about forty-five degrees and then letting it relax. This position provides access to the Rectus Femoris, Vastus Lateralis and Vastus Medialis. It is then a simple case of placing the massage stick roller 3-5 cm superiorly to the patella (above the kneecap) and applying a comfortable level of pressure through the stick roller. Then while maintaining the pressure one just rolls the massage stick roller up the leg towards the body or heart, as in massage. One can then repeat the technique 3-5 times and with varying pressure on each of the quadricep muscles.

After treating the Quadriceps, it is worth moving on to the Hamstrings unless one has already treated these before finally addressing the calf muscles starting with the Gastrocnemius.

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.