Self Treatment: Myofascial Release

Fascia is connective tissue, a webbing that surrounds every muscle, bone, and organ of the body.  In essence, it is what holds us together.

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In the case of injury or over-exertion, fascia becomes tight and dense, shortening muscles.  This contributes to inflammation, muscle imbalance, localized tenderness, and irritated nerves.  Habitual poor posture and repetitive stress injuries have cumulative effects on the body as fascia contracts.  Keeping fascia soft and pliable helps to both prevent injury and stimulate healing.

This understanding has been groundbreaking through my most recent shoulder dislocation (loose ligaments- it’s genetic.)  Now I was not only stretching muscles and realigning ribs, I was softening supportive tissue.  In two weeks of focused myofascial release I saw more results than I had in the previous two months, a fast forward button to healing.

Trigger Point Therapy

Trigger point therapy is an excellent way to soften fascia and deeply stretch irritated muscles. Trigger points are small zones of contracted muscle knots that radiate pain.  Releasing them can help realign muscles as well as decrease inflammation.

You can use any lacrosse ball, tennis ball, or therapy ball.  If you want to be able to use the ball over your shoulder as in the photograph below, put the ball in a knee-high, tube, or soccer sock.

Carrying a heavy backpack with books, reed tools, music, and my oboe takes a large toll on my already inflamed and unstable shoulders.  Trigger point therapy helps me release tension, keep swelling down and promote healing.

Meet my newest therapy tool, I cannot express how much I adore this thing.  You do not need this brand of ball to get the same results but I thought it best to share for it’s convenience.  The bungee rope and addition of the tiny ball for more focused work on acute tension points have been helpful.

A couple tips for trigger point work:
1.  Aim for 45 seconds in one spot, enough time for the muscle to release but not too much.  Longer can restrict blood flow and possibly cause the muscle to spasm.

2.  Rolling in a circular motion is my favorite but you can roll back and forth over the spot or just apply steady, direct pressure.  Experiment and find what your body responds to best.  Here is a diagram of trigger points in the neck and back:

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This webpage includes a brief video tutorial on how to release tight and tender muscles in the neck and shoulders using the floor instead of the wall.

Palmar Fascia

An oboist needs to maintain pliability in their hands, in the palmar fascia.

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Repetitive stress from long hours of reed making and performing, especially if there is tension in the hand and forearm, can lead to tightening of the fascia in the palm of the hand.  Repetitive strain on the hand leads to contracting and even spasms in the palmar muscles.  Myofascial release can also help with carpal tunnel symptoms.
Relief can found by releasing the soft tissue by gently rolling a ball on the palm of the hand in a variety of areas (see the video below).  Always gently!  An oboist’s hand is a valuable commodity.
A little bit of release can have big results.  You just may find your fingers moving more fluidly the next time you fly through Polovtsian Dances or La Scala.
 

As with anything injury related, when in doubt see a physician.  I am not, nor do I profess to be, a health specialist.

4 thoughts on “Self Treatment: Myofascial Release

  1. Question for you: the knots in my shoulder range from marble size to baseball size. When I use a tennis ball, the knots just pop across and it’s really hard to massage them…. of course the roller does not reach them… any suggestions?

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    • The more you work on them, the more they will release. A tennis ball may not be dense enough, I prefer a harder lacrosse ball myself. You can roll back and forth, in circular motion or just apply direct pressure- really, just listen to your nervous system, it will tell you what is good. Here is another interesting blog article that goes into more detail on listening to your body and self treating with trigger point massage. https://www.painscience.com/articles/self-massage.php I hope it helps!

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  2. I’m very enthusiastic about following your advice here. My physiotherapist got me back to gym condition from being hardly capable of walking to the bathroom or lifting a caraffe of coffee. She used Gunn-IMS (istop.org) but as I got better she insisted on myofascial relase along with neural flossing. She gave me a points-diagram (nowehere near as comprehensive as the one you provide here) that explained where to massage for jaw pain, tension headaches, twitching forearms etc….. all of it perfectly modern science, no woo-woo, and yet so reminiscent of ancient Chinese medicine. If you can find a reference of which of those tender points affect what common complaint, that would be amazing. THANKS FOR THIS ONE!

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    • Oh, I am so sorry you have been through so much pain and weakness. I was there a few years ago before discovered my extreme food allergies. Quite the challenge, but your willingness and efforts to work through it speaks volumes of your strength. The same website I mentioned in the previous reply has posts on tension headache and trigger points (see below). I have noticed that releasing the suboccipital muscles at the base of the skull have been a huge help for me in releasing tension, improving my posture and even help minimize the knots at the base of my neck. This article uses a plastic knob tool, I use the small ball on the tool posted above. In moments tension/desperation, I have even used rounded corners of the wall backstage at rehearsals to dig into trouble spots. Think of a bear rubbing it’s back on a tree- that’s probably what I looked like!

      Tension Headache: https://www.painscience.com/articles/spot-01-suboccipitals.php
      Jaw Release (also helps with TMJ): https://www.painscience.com/articles/spot-07-masseter.php

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