Have you ever walked past a foam roller at the gym and thought “I might try that one day?” Perhaps you’ve got a spikey ball at home that’s gathering dust because you’re not sure when to use it? One common question we get asked in the clinic is “when is it best appropriate to perform self release?” The simple answer is, it depends on what you are trying to achieve.

One thing that I try to teach my patients is to take ownership of their bodies, and listen to the feedback their tissues are giving them.  It will give you pretty good clues regarding where/when to use self-release strategies (see our other posts regarding different self release tools).  If you are using self-release to supplement your training, typically what I’ll get my patients to do is a pre-exercise assessment of one of the tasks that will be in their training session (e.g. running, squatting at the gym etc.).  If you’re in a high-load training period or new to exercise you might notice pre-exercise muscle tightness, soreness (DOMS), or a movement just doesn’t feel smooth.  If this is the case, I encourage my patient to focus on where it felt uncomfortable (e.g. front of the hip, quads etc.), and do a short bout of self-release before re-testing the same movement again. More often than not, they’ve modified some of the discomfort, and if not they need to keep exploring around the area, or try a different self-release tool (perhaps a broad surface tool like a roller isn’t quite getting into the hip, so a more focal trig ball is needed?).

Occasionally athletes will ask if it is ok to self-release prior to competition in fear of impacting performance. One systematic review[1] found that self release is effective at increasing joint range without negatively influencing performance, and can be useful at reducing performance deficits related to muscle soreness. It concluded saying exercise performance is not affected with small doses of self-release beforehand.  With athletic populations, I again refer back to listening to your body. Use your self-release tool as an assessment and scan for areas that are sore or stiff and try and modify this sensation through a functional task.  But what if you would prefer to do some foam rolling after exercise as a cool down?  The same systematic review[1] found that self release after exercise was effective at reducing post exercise muscle soreness.  So using your roller or trigger ball after exercise also has its benefits.

You might be at the end of this blog and are thinking “well what if I don’t do any structured exercise but get a bit sore time to time”.  You might have walked up Mt Ainslie on the weekend as a one off, and now going down the stairs is hurting your bottom and thighs.  Perhaps you spend a lot of time sitting at a computer, are a weekend gardener, or just tinker around the house. Almost everyone would’ve suffered some form of muscular pain/ache from time to time.  What I would recommend is to get an appreciation for whatever movement/task is difficult or uncomfortable, implement some form of self-release and perform that movement/task again and see if it is more comfortable (duration of holds etc. varies depending on the patient, it is worth discussing this with your physiotherapist).  If your pain is acutely sharp, it isn’t responding to self release, or you think it is making it worse then it might be worth booking an appointment with your physiotherapist to try and get to the bottom of it.

So there you have it, self-release can be performed pre or post exercise without impacting performance, and if you are generally feeling a bit tender or sore.  I would advise anyone who is unfamiliar with how to perform self-release to consult with your physiotherapist before jumping straight on the trigger ball or foam roller, just to avoid injury. They will be able to guide you through where to focus your self-release, and how to do this effectively. If you would like to find out more or would like some education from one of our physiotherapists please contact one of our clinics or visit our website.

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