Self Myo-Fascial Release: Basic Techniques & Concepts

Why do I need a massage?

The human body has over 500 muscles that are work in concert to help us achieve various life functions each and every day:  walking, sitting, carrying objects, and even holding our head-up straight are only but a few of the tasks that require this concentrated effort from our nervous and muscular system. 

These repetitive actions can cause our muscles to become tight and in some cases hyper-irritable, otherwise known as a trigger points.  Trigger points can become extremely painful if not addressed.  These hyper-irritated points within our muscles may also refer pain to a different regions of the body. 

What is a trigger point?

Trigger points are a single, localized region in a muscle that is experiencing extreme tightness.  Often, it can radiate pain to broader areas, in many cases quite distant from the trigger point itself.

Trigger points, if not resolved, may lead to long term pain, dysfunction, and postural deficits.  The body tends to adapt compensatory strategies, such as shrugging your upper trapezius (traps) to abduct (raise) your arm rather than using the primary muscles intended to support this action, most notably the supraspinatus and deltoid. 

Furthermore, compensatory strategies, such as the one previously mentioned, may lead to an increased susceptibility to developing additional trigger points due to the added firing of arbitrary muscles.  In time, one may run the risk of developing myo-fascial pain syndrome (MPS);  a condition in which the body develops widespread trigger points of severe intensity.

So what do I do?

Self Myo-Fascial Release (SMR) can be a serve as a therapeutic complement to your warm—up and stretching routine. It helps relieve muscle tightness and alleviate pain caused by trigger points. 

Bothersome spasms may be alleviated through the proper use of SMR.  The basic premise behind self myo-fascial release is that by applying deliberate, constant pressure with the proper amount of force to the tissue will help resolve a spasm by allowing nutrient rich blood to rush to the target area.  This process is thought to help the tissue elongate and return to its normal state. 

 Several minutes of SMR before and/or after a workout is typically sufficient. 

Releasing a trigger point can be done in many ways.

Foam Rolling

Foam rolling involves using a solid foam tube placed on the ground.  Body positioning will depend on which body part is experiencing the spasm / discomfort. For example, one would address a trigger point in the hamstrings by placing the foam roll under the back of the leg. 

From here, you distribute your body weight over the foam roll. This technique allows you to apply a large amount of pressure across a globalized area.

Using a slow, deliberate pace, roll your body back and fourth on the foam roll with your hands placed firmly on the ground.  When an area of tenderness presents itself, gently hold static pressure on that spot for 20-30 seconds.

Lacrosse Ball

Place the lacrosse ball on the knot / trigger point and redistribute your body weight through that point of contact. 

A lacrosse ball may be a good tool to incorporate when trying to address more difficult areas to reach such as trigger points in the chest muscle.  An implement such as this will allow you to address knots while in a standing position. This can be performed for the same amount of time as was mentioned above.

This type of SMR needs to be employed with caution; due to the reduced contact area, the pressure applied will be far greater.

Additional Tools

There are a variety of tools for myo-fascial release that have been manufactured that you might want to consider adding to your gym bag.  Graston and Hawkgrip are two popular brands that build tools to help alleviate trigger points.

Direct pressure can be applied to the trigger points by simply holding one of these instruments firmly in your hand and rubbing it in multiple directions across the muscle to increase vasodilation (widening of blood vessels) and blood flow locally.  

Lastly, there is concern that self myo-fascial release may decrease the force output generated by the muscles during a workout.  This may be of concern for professional athletes performing at the highest levels of sport; however, for the basic exerciser looking to improve their overall health and wellness and to the best of our knowledge, the rewards of proper SMR seem to greatly outweigh any ‘slight’ deficits in strength / force production one might experience during their workout.


  • Macdonald GZ, Penney MD, Mullaley ME, et al. An Acute Bout of Self-Myofascial Release Increases Range of Motion Without a Subsequent Decrease in Muscle Activation or Force. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2013;27(3):812-821. doi:10.1519/jsc.0b013e31825c2bc1.

  • Kalichman L, David CB. Effect of self-myofascial release on myofascial pain, muscle flexibility, and strength: A narrative review. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. 2017;21(2):446-451. doi:10.1016/j.jbmt.2016.11.006.

  • Southerst D. Myofascial trigger points: pathophysiology and evidence-informed diagnosis and management. Manual Therapy. 2011;16(3). doi:10.1016/j.math.2010.12.004.

  • The Complete Guide to Trigger Points & Myofascial Pain (2017). Accessed June 16, 2017.

  • What is Myofascial Release? Myofascial Release Treatment Centers & Seminars. Accessed June 16, 2017.

  • "Myofascial trigger point." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 10 June 2017. Web. 20 June 2017.

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