Myofascial Release for Runners
You’ve likely experienced a restricted and sore body that comes with training for running events. In order for our muscles to function to their potential, the myofascia must be pliable and elastic. In this article, you will learn what fascia is, how myofascial release benefits runners, and techniques to add to your recovery routine to promote healthy muscle movement through myofascial release.
Please note there may be other advantages to these recovery techniques beyond myofascial release for runners.
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What is fascia?
Underneath the skin, in the fascia, are sheets of connective tissue. According to the National Library of Medicine, These tissues provide attachment, stabilization, strength, vascular openness, muscle separation, and organ encapsulation.
There are different types of fascia. In this article we specifically address the fascia that works with your muscles, called myofascia.
What is Myofascial Release and How Does it Help with Recovery for Runners?
Myofascial Release (MFR) is a form of bodywork that focuses on releasing tight muscles and connective tissues. It has been used by athletes for many years to reduce soreness after training, improve performance, and speed up recovery. MFR involves foam rolling, sports massage, muscle scraping, and other techniques to help release the myofascial layer to help the muscles move properly.
What are Some Techniques for Myofascial Release?
It can be overwhelming to sort out how to best use our recovery time as busy runners. There are many different methods for myofascial release. We’ve done the research of various myofascial release techniques to help you stay healthy and maximize your recovery efforts.
Myofascial recovery technique: Foam rolling
Foam rolling is a popular technique used to release myofascial trigger points, which are areas of tightness in the muscles and fascia.
A meta-analysis on the effectiveness of foam rolling before your run, reveals only very small improvements in range of motion and sprint performance. The same meta research also analyzed post-run rolling, showing decreased performance loss before the next run by 3% compared to those who did not roll. Most notably, rolling reduced pain-perception by 6%.
It is important to note that foam rolling should not replace other forms of recovery such as stretching, strength, or massage therapy. Additionally, there is limited evidence on the long-term effects of foam rolling on muscle performance and injury prevention.
Our take: We do a lot of work in our training to try and perform our best. Are the small gains sought through foam rolling worth it? We think so! Foam rollers are cost-effective and accessible for daily routine. The disadvantage is the small amount of impact compared to other myofascial release techniques.
Myofascial recovery technique: Sports Massage
Using manual pressure, a massage therapist can stretch and loosen restricted areas of bound myofascia. Your trained therapist will know when they come across unhealthy fascia because healthy tissues are pliable and elastic, whereas the rigid areas are irritated, tight, or damaged muscles or fascia.
According to the Mayo Clinic, massage advantages include lowering stress levels, alleviating pain and muscle tension, promoting relaxation, and enhancing immune system performance.
These indirectly can help runners recover, but can massage specifically help with running? In a meta analysis, collective studies on massage for runners found statistically significant improvements in flexibility and DOMS.
Our take: Myofascial and muscle health can both be promoted through massage. Some of the other outstanding benefits may greatly impact your overall productivity in training. Costs in terms of time and money are disadvantages.
Myofascial recovery technique: Muscle Scraping (Gua Sha)
A less popular, but powerful, way to rehabilitate muscle fascia is through a traditional Chinese medicine technique called Gua Sha, or muscle scraping.
Using a specific muscle scraping tool, or the blunt edge of a spoon, you or a therapist applies pressure on the tissues and stokes the skin to break up scarring and adhesions underneath.
Studies show that consistent muscle scraping greatly improved flexibility and range of motion by promoting fascia and muscular recovery. Subjects with chronic pain in a separate study saw significant improvements to alleviate pain compared to the control group. A fascinating study with mice indicates the potential for significant reduction in inflammation and organ health.
Our take: This is one of our preferred methods for regular maintenance of myofascial health. The disadvantage is the potential to bruise and damage your skin.
Myofascial recovery technique: Cupping
Cupping therapy is a form of alternative medicine that has been used for centuries. It involves placing cups on the skin to create suction and is thought to help release myofascial tissue. While there is limited research on the potential benefits of cupping for runners, athletes utilize this technique in hopes to reduce pain, improve recovery time and even increase performance. Mayo Clinic affirms the lack of research to promote this method.
However, cupping therapy has become increasingly popular among runners in recent years as they look for ways to relieve their muscle soreness and improve their performance. While there are still some questions about its effectiveness, some studies have shown that cupping can potentially decrease pain levels and improve function. With more research being conducted on this topic, it may soon become a useful tool in helping runners achieve their goals.
Our take: Cupping will likely not hurt you beyond superficial bruising and damages to the skin. If you are planning to try cupping, do not do so directly before a big competition. Try it in training first. Since cupping is largely unstudied among athletes, there is the potential for benefit. Other methods like scraping, massage, and ART would be our recommendation over cupping for myofascial release.
Myofascial recovery technique: ART
ART stands for Active Release Technique. This method is used by physical therapists for soft-tissue mobilization. Your practitioner will combine manipulation and movement.
Studies indicate that ART has been effective in resolving adhesion of scar tissue and the soft tissue that causes pain, spasm, muscle weakness, tingling, and other symptoms. The greatest improvements were in range of motion and pain perception.
What to Do After Myofascial Release?
Myofascial release can help with recovery, improve performance, and even reduce pain. However, to get the most out of any of these techniques, you must realign the fascia over the muscles through movement and also strengthen and maintain muscle health. Don’t forget to move after releasing the myofascia!
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by Andi Ripley, co-founder of AtoZrunning and Running Coach
THRIVE AS A RUNNER
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