Mobility Part 1 – Soft Tissue Restrictions & Self Myofascial Release

Soft Tissue Restrictions 

When we are unable to move a joint through a normal range of movement, it results in a lack of mobility.  One of the primary causes for lack of mobility is soft tissue restrictions, or trigger areas, that result in tightness and pain.   This restricted tissue is the fascia, a very thin, collagen-like substance that permeates the entire human body from nerve endings, to muscle fibers, to bones and organs.  

Fascia on chicken breast

Think about that clear layer on a piece of raw chicken breast, that is fascia.  Fascia in humans is a living seam system and provides a soft tissue scaffolding system to help support your body as well as assist in movement.

The fascia is responsible for the huge range of movement we possess. The fascia can get tacked down, and restrict the movement of different layers of tissue.  Thus  we lose functionality or have movement painful.  Think scar tissue and matted down old tissue that hasn’t been required to move in a long time (i.e. you haven’t done a full squat in decades).  These tacked down areas are called adhesions, knots, trigger points or scar tissue.  

Self Myofascial Release

Self Myofascial Release

Using self-myofascial release (SMR) techniques, we can break up those adhesions and restore the sliding surfaces of the various layers of tissue. The main tools used in SMRF include foam rollers, lacrosse balls, tennis balls, and even barbells and kettlebells.   By using friction, pressure, and movement with a hard object over these areas of adhesions, we begin to break up the knots. A recent study in the Journal of Sports Rehabilitation (1) found the foam rolling is more effective than static or dynamic stretching in acutely increasing flexibility of the quadriceps and hamstrings without hampering muscle strength, and is recommended as part of a warm up in healthy adults.

SMR can be performed before a training session to help loosen tissue and improve mobility for that workout, but should also be done after the workout to release those areas tightened during the workout.

How To Perform Self Myofascial Release

Foam Rollers
Foam Rollers

Lie on a foam roller, using a slow up and down movement, roll over the tissues applying pressure to the muscle.

  1. When you find an area that hurts, stop and hold pressure for 30 seconds.  
  2. Then slowly move your body around to apply different pressure points.
  3. Roll slowly, no more than one inch per second.
  4. Bend and extend the limbs in the area you are working to untack the tissue.  
  5. Roll each area for up to 2 minutes or move if the pain subsides.

SMFR breaks up the adhesions, but it can be very painful the first few times you do it. Don’t get discouraged, the more you roll, the less painful it gets. When the pain diminishes, tissue changes are occurring and the adhesions are being broken up.  Your fascia is free to move again.

This 13 minute video shows how to foam roll the entire body:

SMR Don’ts

  • Do not roll over joints or a bone (like the front of the shin).
  • Don’t foam roll your lower back. Use a tennis ball or lacrosse ball or two balls taped together in a peanut shape. Place the ball(s) on the side of the spine and slowly roll along the spine.
  • Don’t roll to the point of excessive soreness.

Here is a good reference chart showing how to roll various areas:

Foam Rolling
Foam Rolling Basic Patterns

Other Tools for SMR

Tools for SMR
Lacrosse Ball
  • The lacrosse ball, VooDoo Floss reviewed in this article, tennis ball, edge of a kettlebell or even a barbell can be used in place of the foam roller to target deeper tissues.  Be creative, humans have used rocks and man made tools for years to work out areas of discomfort on their bodies.  I have a lacrosse ball in my car to roll out my back and shoulders during my drive.

Quality products to help you begin your SMR journey include:


Double Lacrosse Balls
Voodoo Floss Bands


12″ Rumble Roller



















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  1. Su H, Chang NJ, Wu WL, Guo LY, Chu IH. Acute Effects of Foam Rolling, Static Stretching, and Dynamic Stretching During Warm-ups on Muscular Flexibility and Strength in Young Adults. Journal of Sports Rehabil. 2017 Nov;26(6);469-477.

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