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Full fascia massage

The secret to a limber body is a little-known but very effective aspect of your cooling down session — the self-release myofascial technique.

health and fitness Updated: Apr 12, 2010 18:41 IST
Dhamini Ratnam

The term may seem a mouthful to some, and a bit naughty to others. But if the aches and pains that hit on the morning after are all-too familiar, then you’re missing out on a little-known but expedient post-workout recovery process. Self-release myofascial (SMR) technique works on the fascia — the connective tissue that surrounds our muscles — easing out knots that tend to cause tension.

Want to meet your fascia? Try this little experiment. Put the paper down and go get your child’s tennis ball. Now roll it slowly under each foot for two minutes applying a bit of pressure. Put the ball away and keeping your knees straight, bend. You’ll manage to touch those toes you hadn’t been able to for a long time.

Why does it work?

According to Justin Price, the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Functional Training, one fascial line extends from the bottom of your feet, up your legs and behind your back and neck, and ends at the forehead. It acts like a rubber band, so when you bend over, you’re stretching the entire thing. Because of knots and adhesions along the way — where the muscles crisscross either due to training, an injury or a pattern of overuse — it’s harder for you to bend and touch the floor. Even if we’re not working out, we’ve still got these adhesions.

Dr Vece Paes, the physician for the Indian Davis Cup team and former Olympic bronze medalist in hockey, explains why. “When we exercise, train, or even due to a bad posture over a period of time, there is repeated trauma caused to our muscles, resulting in minute tears and haemorrhages in them.” The fascia, which covers every muscle, is the site for these adhesions and knots and that’s where the SMR technique steps in to unknot them.

Un-knotting the muscles

To get the muscles to relax, explains physiotherapist Heath Matthews, a massage or a stretch helps.

SMR is a more focused massage, as it is localised on the areas where the nerve ends. By breaking the adhesions, SMR stretches out the muscle, improves its range of motion and makes it more pliable.

Matthews recommends using a foam roller to practice SMR techniques, which can be done at home. “SMR should be done just once in a day spending two to five minutes per muscle. Professional athletes use this as part of their cool-down routine only twice a week.” So, even though you work out daily, you don’t need to perform SMR everyday — just do it as and when it’s required.

Post not pre

Even if you don’t workout daily, SMR will help ease the knots and general aches and pains. But if you do workout, remember the technique is part of the recovery (or cool down) process rather than the warm-up. “The last thing you want to do is relax the muscles before a workout. SMR is a cool-down technique,” says Matthews.

Paes adds that SMR is only part of recovery, which involves several aspects including hydration, stretching, a reduction of lactic acid, diet, cold baths and sleep. “All this together helps the body to recover. You can’t just (make do) with a rubber ball on the hands and feet,” he says.

With inputs from Washington Post-Bloomberg.