Self-Myofascial Release - Exercise Physiology of Foam Rolling

Written By Runnergirl Training

Self-myofascial release is a form of stretching and is often accomplished by use of a foam roller (cylinder of foam).

According to Clark and Russell, SMFR uses an individual’s body weight by incorporating a foam roller to massage restrictions that are in the soft tissue. The kinetic chain involved includes joints, neural system (nerves & central nervous system), and the soft tissue system (muscles, fascia, ligaments, tendons).  All of these components must function together to prevent the Cumulative Injury Cycle.

The Cumulative Injury Cycle is composed of several factors. Tightness in the muscles indicates soft tissue adhesions and neural-hyperactivity. The motion of the joint can become altered and change the neural feedback with the CNS (Central Nervous System). This causes a decline in the efficiency of neuromuscular actions. It is followed by premature fatigue and results in injuries.

Hirth (2007) explains the vital role of SMFR for a specific muscle group:
     The clinician could utilize an inhibition technique for the hip adductor complex, such as rolling on a foam roller. Often there are tender points in these muscles that are painful when pressure is applied. Placing constant pressure on the tender points for 30 seconds is thought to decrease muscle spindle activity in the overactive muscle. The next step would be to stretch the inhibited muscle. In this case, one could perform a standing hip adductor stretch for 20-30 seconds. Once the overactive/tight muscle group is inhibited/lengthened, the focus would be directed to activation of the weak gluteus medius.  Hip abductor muscles may play a vital role in controlling knee valgus motion. (p.13)

The following chart from Clark and Russell shows the benefits of SMFR:

Benefits of Self-Myofascial Release
- Correct muscle imbalances
- Joint range of motion
- Muscle soreness & relieve joint stress
- Neuromuscular hyper tonicity
- Extensibility of musculotendinous junction
- Neuromuscular efficiency
- Maintain normal functional muscular length

The following chart from Clark and Russell shows the correct way to use SMFR:

General Guidelines
- Hold each position 1-2 minutes for each side (when applicable).
- If pain is reported, stop rolling and REST on the painful areas for 30-45 seconds.
- Continuing to roll when pain is present activates the muscle spindles, causing increased tightness & pain.
- Resting 30-45 seconds on areas will stimulate the golgi tendon organ (GTO) and autogenically inhibit the muscle spindles, reducing the muscular tendon, & will help regulate fascial receptors.
- Maintain proper Draw In Position, which provides stability to the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex during rolling.
- Perform SMFR program 1-2 x daily.

Clark. M, & Russell, (n.d.). A. Self-Myofascial Release Techniques. Retrieved from 

Hirth, C. (2007). Clinical movement analysis to identify muscle imbalances and guide exercises. Athletic Therapy Today (12) 4, 10-14.


  1. Great article. Foam rolling helped me to heal from a cronic injury in my calf muscles.
    Thanks for sharing these tips.
    Cheers from Brazil!


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