It’s Spring time, and THANK GOD it finally feels like it too! I think most of us can agree that we are pretty excited for summer, the warm weather, and all the activities that come with it! With the change in temperature, I’ve definitely noticed a lot more people at the gym lately. Seems like the city of Toronto is coming out of hibernation mode, and thinking about their summer bodies. As a trainer, this makes me super excited! However, I’ve also noticed that people don’t realize how immobile they really are. It seems as though that people don’t really understand how much muscle soreness, tightness, and inflexibility can really impact your performance at the gym, and therefore your results! I’m sure most people don’t have any intention of injuring themselves when they enter the gym to workout, but that’s exactly what can happen if you don’t properly rehab, and stretch the body as part of your workout routine.
Before we can get into these pain relieving techniques, we must discuss Fascia and what it is? This is the only way we can understand some of the pain we’re in, or lack of flexibility, and how to fix it. Fascia is connective tissue that is densely woven throughout the entire body like a spider web, or some sort of sweater. This connective tissue helps to provide a framework to support and protect every muscle group, and organ in the body. basically fascia connects and covers the entire body. It is a second protective layer beneath the skin, just like an orange has its orange rind or skin, and then the white layer under the rind that covers the entire fruit like a sweater. Furthermore, there are four different types of fascia tissue. The first type of fascia tissue is what I described earlier and it covers the entire body, it is the most well-known type of fascia, and that is Structural Fascia. The fibers of structural fascia have the ability to contract, relax, and stretch just like muscles do. They have the ability to pull the skeleton and surrounding structures out of alignment. Where the fibers of structural fascia cross in the body can jam and adhere joints including our vertebral column. The second type of fascia is very important to athletes, my clients, and muscle activity, it’s found in our muscles, and it is called Inter-Structural Fascia. It looks like a web of connective tissue inside of a muscle. The inter-structural fascia found in our muscles contract, relax, and stretch the muscle fibers. Inter-Structural Fascia also penetrates, and surrounds the brain, organs, cartilage, blood vessels, nerves, and literally every system in the body. Inter-Structural Fascia is very sticky. When the fascia sticks to other fascia fibers in the structure, the fibers of a single structure, as well as sticking two or more structures together, will interrupt the functions of these structures. Visceral Fascia is found in our midsection, it fills the “blank spaces” in the body and is highly protective. The fourth type of fascia is Spinal Fascia. Inter-Structural Fascia, Structural Fascia, and Visceral Fascia are all found in and around the spine. Spinal Fascia is very special because it is extremely dense and it wraps arond the spine like a thick straw. All the types of fascia link with the Spinal Fascia, and burst out from the straw encasement of the spine like sunbeams throughout the abdominal cavity. Knowing how to impact this deep fascia can dramatically aid in the treatment of back pain.
How does fascia affect me? Like I explained above, fascia covers and protects the entire body. It also has a very important role of supporting the musculoskeletal system by enabling us to perform various tasks like running, walking, and going from sitting to standing. Blood, nerves, and muscles are enveloped and penetrated by fascia, allowing your muscles and organs to glide smoothly, against one another. When you have fascial adhesions or distortions, this can cause poor blood flow, weaker nerve impulses, limited flexibility and mobility, and a host of other physical ailments. So much pain, tightness, and discomfort is unnecessarily caused by distorted fascia. Distortions in fascia can pull, torque, and compress the body. This will affect the body’s proper alignment. Fascial tension in the knee for example, can cause issues or tension in other parts of the body like the hips, or ankles. Very common conditions caused by fascial distortions are as follows: Plantar Fasciitis, IT Band Syndrome, and Frozen Shoulder. Fascia is protective by nature, and it will act like a band-aid to make up for injuries, and imbalances in the body. So if you injured yourself and it never healed properly, your fascia will adhere to itself and other structures to help protect you from further injury. However, when your fascia does this, it will significantly impact your body’s mobility, and the function of that muscle group. and/or joint. This is where muscle tightness, soreness, and pain come into play. This is why it is so, so important to rehab your body properly, to make sure that you are stretching, and massaging your body to help break up some of the fascia distortions, and adhesions to allow for properly movement bodily functions.
What is Myofascial release? It is a safe and effective hands on technique where you apply gentle sustained pressure into the myofascial connective tissue restrictions to eliminate pain and restore motion. This gentle pressure, applied slowly will allow the fascia to elongate. A lot of times when you are performing myofascial release techniques on yourself, where you find the most pain is where there is an adhesion in the fascial tissue. It will feel like a ball or knot in your muscle tissue. Unfortunately, this type of muscle pain, and tightness does not show up on standard medical texts like x-rays, CAT scans and so on. This is why hands on treatment is so important. I would strongly recommend that you ask someone who has experience in this type of therapy to help you with your pain. Normally they will give you self-myofasical techniques so that you can continue to improve your pain, and mobility issues. Myofascial release is PAINFUL!!! Keep that in mind, but it is highly effective. If you don’t push yourself through the pain, the fascial adhesions will just get worse, and so will your pain, and mobility. In addition, your posture, and overall performance will be effected as well.
When you’re performing myofascial release techniques like foam rolling, or trigger point therapy, they are normally recommended for post workout recovery or for non-training days. The foam roller is great for targeting larger muscle groups, whereas the lacrosse ball is great for smaller areas of pain of trigger points. Trigger points are also known as myofascial points. These spots are found in specific areas on a muscle and the surrounding tissue, and they are the most common sources of referred pain. This basically means that when the trigger point is activated, pain is usually felt somewhere else in the body. Generally, when you use the lacrosse ball to apply pressure to a trigger point, the pressure may be painful at first, but eventually the pain will be alleviated and the muscles relaxed. Lacrosse balls are great to use on your buttocks, shoulders, calves, feet, and hips. The small surface area of the ball allows for the user to really get deep inside the muscle tissue, and pinpoint the areas of pain. Again, I would ask someone who has experience in using a lacrosse ball to relieve pain to help show you some of these pain relieving techniques.
As for foam rolling? There are various types of foam rollers out there. I have a Grid Foam Roller, the shorter one so I can easily travel with it for my clients. I personally like the Grid Foam Roller because you can get various densities, basically you can choose how hard the foam roller is. The harder the foam roller, the deeper the massage. Depending on how tight or how much pain you’re feeling will determine how hard a foam roller your should be using. If you are quite immobile, and tight, then a softer foam roller would be a good start. Once you start to release some of the tension in your muscles, you can then graduate to harder rollers. In addition, the grid has both rigid and smooth surfaces. Again, if you are in quite a bit of pain, I would use the smoother side to massage your muscles. Once you have relieved some of the tension, you can then graduate to the ridges to get deeper into the muscle tissue. Lastly, a foam roller that has a grid on it will help to better adhere to the skin, and this will give you better results. Please, when performing self-myofascial release, you should be holding the position, and massaging the entire area for at least 2 minutes to give your body enough time to relax and relieve tension. Areas within that muscle group that are very painful should be focused on for at least 30-45 seconds to notice any significant change. However, this all depends on your level of pain. You don’t want to cause further harm, but you do want to give your body the opportunity to relieve itself of pain, and this will take some mind over matter. Myofascial release “hurts so good,” as I like to tell my clients. It is painful but at the same time it feels good. I know that sounds weird but it’s true. It’s the same when you get a deep tissue massage, it can be painful but also so relaxing. In addition, just like deep tissue massage, performing myofascial release can have you feeling sore the next day. This is normal. Take a rest day, and then try it again until you see a significant improvement in your mobility and pain.
It is extremely important to work on your mobility and pain as a supplement to your workouts in the gym. For athletes, therapy is so important to keeping them in tip-top shape. Just like athletes, we tend to do a lot of repetitive movement in our day-to-day lives. This type of trauma to our muscles and fascia system can cause permanent damage if left untreated. Sure, it’s nice to want a beach bod, but it’s not ever going to be possible if you are not able to perform proper movement patterns. If you are unable to properly perform a squat because of lack of mobility, how are you supposed to reap the benefits?! It’s just not possible! Don’t think that you can just walk into the gym and do any sort of workout if you don’t have the proper tools. What do I mean by proper tools? I mean proper movement patterns. How do you know if you move properly? Ask a professional!!!! Learn what you’re doing wrong and how to fix it! Personal trainers with knowledge and experience, physiotherapists, athletic therapists, are all good options to learn how to perform proper movement patterns, and also learn how to improve, or maintain these patterns through therapy. Trigger Point Therapy, and Myofascial Release techniques will not only relieve your body of aches and pains, it will help to give you the right tools to achieve your goals in the gym.