One of the newest approaches to treating myofascial pain is self-myofascial release (SMFR) . SMFR, as defined by Kalichman and Ben, “is an inexpensive and highly accessible tool allowing the individual to maintain flexibility and potentially release the patient’s myofascial pain anywhere and anytime” . They add that SMFR technique “[involves] small undulations back and forth over a special tool such as a dense foam roller or massage balls, starting at the proximal portion of the muscle and working downwards to the distal portion of the muscle or vice versa” . These small undulations place pressure on the soft-tissue and are believed to “[cause] a warming of the fascia, [break] up fibrous adhesions between the fascial layers,” and, in turn, “[restore] soft-tissue extensibility” .
Recently, therapists and fitness professionals have increasingly recommended the implementation of self-myofascial release treatment . Unlike other approaches to treating myofascial pain, such as injection therapy, dry needling, and deep-tissue massage, SMFR methods do not require the assistance of a physical therapist or fitness professional but can be performed by the individual herself , and are considered “a cost-effective rehabilitation tool for myofascial release” . SMFR is often achieved via several different devices, including medicine balls, pain balls, roller massagers, and hypervolt devices . One of the most common SMFR tools is the foam roller .
“Foam rolling,” as explained by Kalichman and Ben, “is performed with a foam cylinder that can vary in size, shape, and density” . Although there is no consensus concerning foam rolling programs, “most [foam] rolling protocols include 30-60 seconds of rolling on the specified muscle with the action repeated on the opposite limb” . The positive effects that are theorized to result from foam rolling include muscle recovery, increased range of motion (ROM), and improved core stability .
A hypervolt device uses a combination of high-speed vibration and percussion in order to help treat myofascial pain . Konrad et al., examining the efficacy of a hypervolt device, write that percussive treatment “likely combines the elements of a conventional massage and vibration therapy” .
Despite the rising popularity of SMFR, there exists a limited amount of research evaluating its efficacy. Research comparing the efficacy of a soft inflatable ball and a hard massage ball as a deep soft-tissue massage tool indicated that “soft massage tools may be more helpful [than harder/denser massage tools] for MTrP pressure release” . Konrad et al., investigating the efficacy of hypervolt devices, suggested that they be applied during a warm-up routine, to help improve flexibility without diminishing muscle performance .
With regard to foam rolling as an SMFR technique, the data varies. One study showed an increase in hip-flexion ROM when foam rolling was performed for three sets of two-minute repetitions . In 2019, it was demonstrated that foam rolling “can be applied as an effective technique for increasing ROM in the stand and reach test with an 8-week training period,” without damaging strength performance . In contrast, Kalichman and Ben cite research (Miller and Rocky) from 2006 showing that foam rolling had no effect on improving hamstring flexibility .
In sum, SMFR methods have the potential to be convenient, effective, and less expensive alternatives to other myofascial release techniques that require the assistance of a physical therapist or fitness professional . While researchers are keen to point out that more clinical trials are needed to evaluate the efficacy of SMFR for treating myofascial pain [1,2,3,5], it appears that SMFR methods may help improve ROM without impairing muscle performance.
1. Cheatham, S. W. et al. (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. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 10(6), 827–838.
2. Junker, D., & Stöggl, T. (2019). The Training Effects of Foam Rolling on Core Strength Endurance, Balance, Muscle Performance and Range of Motion: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 18(2), 229–238.
3. Kalichman, L., & Ben David, C. (2017). Effect of Self-myofascial Release on Myofascial Pain, Muscle Flexibility, and Strength: A Narrative Review. Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies, 21(2), 446–451. DOI: 10.1016/j.jbmt.2016.11.006
4. Kim, Y., Hong, Y. et al. (2019). A soft massage tool is advantageous for compressing deep soft tissue with low muscle tension: Therapeutic evidence for self-myofascial release. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 43, 312–318. DOI: 10.1016/j.ctim.2019.01.001
5. Konrad, A., Glashüttner, C. et al. (2020). The Acute Effects of a Percussive Massage Treatment with a Hypervolt Device on Plantar Flexor Muscles’ Range of Motion and Performance. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 19(4), 690–694. ISSN: 13032968