Foam Rolling For A Self-Massage

Today, Dr. Michael Summers describes the method he uses in his practice  called Active Release Technique (A.R.T).  But before go any further about A.R.T. let’s jump back to part 2 to learn how to safely and quickly  you can strengthen your shoulder blades.


CRAIG BALLANTYNE:  Now let’s go back and talk about the treatment methods that A, an end user should be looking for in their community or B, what a trainer should be referring their clients out to.  So you do the ART.

We can also maybe talk a little bit about acupuncture, what goes on with that, and anything else you want to mention.  And then we’ll also talk a little bit about the foam rolling self-massage that we can do for ourselves.

MICHAEL SOMMERS: ART is really, right now, I think unparalleled in terms of its effectiveness for treating muscle injury, even at the micro injury level where we see the most common things, the little dysfunction that’s happening in muscles where that strength isn’t there.

And normally what that is, is the cross bridges that make up your muscles – the muscles, of course, made up of the two filaments, the actin and the myosin – and what makes that muscle fire are those cross bridges.

And if there isn’t a clean setting for that to happen, if there’s scar tissue buildup or blood buildup or you’re not getting the kind of oxygenation in there you’re not going to have a clean firing.  You’re not going to be able to train well.

So that’s where ART really comes in.  And it’s one of these things that once it became more popular people started hearing about it.  It’s what athletes are looking for.  It’s a little bit strenuous and painful on us clinicians who use it.  It’s hard on our thumbs, but it really helps the athlete population and that makes it fun for us to do.

So that in combination – acupuncture also can be really helpful.  In some situations, again, if there’s scar tissue buildup and especially if there’s a problem with the nerve firing to the area, there is a lot of success with using acupuncture for muscle injuries.  I don’t have as much experience with that myself, but that is something that people also go to and I’ve heard pretty good success stories about.

And then lastly, foam rolling is a fantastic way for everybody at home- people just training and who daily want to make sure there’s good blood flow to the muscle tissue and no scar tissue buildup.  The question after this really is how do you know when you’re getting that?

And we can talk about that in a second, but with a foam roller what you’re doing is you’re providing a very deep fascial and myofascial kind of friction and pressure over the course of the entire muscle belly of the tissue.  And that’s hard to do to yourself  if you don’t have a foam roller.  It’s not going to be as deep and as specific as something like ART, but on a regular self-maintenance kind of basis I don’t think you can beat a foam roller for trying to keep muscle tissue as healthy as possible.

These are tissues that have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to be able to do a lot of work.  And they’re used to a lot of work.  In our modern society we don’t work them as much as maybe – those of you out there who are training a lot, you are getting that kind of work done, but for the average office chair athlete it’s a different story.

So it’s one of those things where it just brings a really needed dose of friction and release to some tissue where you could have a bit of scar tissue building up, especially if you’re training hard.

So that’s a great thing to do.  It’s pretty expensive.  You can do it almost anywhere.  You just need to be able to lie on the floor, have a surface to roll around on.  Especially if you’ve got a bench with you where you can throw your arm up on that and use some weight against it.  And sometimes you have to be a bit creative, but you can use almost any muscle with a foam roller.  And anyone who’s used one will tell you it hurts.  But it always feels good after.  So in that sense, it’s a lot like ART.  Maybe a little bit less specific and a little less deep, but pretty effective nonetheless I think.

BALLANTYNE: So I guess one of the common aspects of both acupuncture, ART and even the foam rolling have in common is they’re getting blood flow to the tissue.  What’s the different between ART and acupuncture then?  And even with the foam rolling you’re getting pressure on the muscle tissue.  So what’s actually going on there?

SOMMERS: The theory behind acupuncture is that it opens up neural pathways that might be blocked.  And that comes from TCM, from traditional Chinese medicine.  The understanding of how muscle injury happens and what actually is going on at a microscopic level in the tissue is at a pretty young age we don’t know as much about it as we probably should at this point.  We do know really what works in helping to heal muscle tissue, and that’s things like ART and things like acupuncture.  We know a little bit more I would think about ART than we do acupuncture in terms of the microscopic level.

But typically acupuncture deals a bit more with the nervous side, the neural side of things, which is a little bit harder to do.  It can be done with ART, but I think ART has a better targeted approach at the tissue and the fascia itself.

And what I find is when that’s not working I try to combine the ART with an acupuncture regimen and then that seems to be a bit of a shotgun approach attacking all the possible problems.  And we almost always have success with that.  So that’s sort of the difference between those two.

The other thing, I don’t know if I’ve mentioned about why these things seem to work for muscle injury is that we know for sure that direct pressure like ART, especially combined with movement, stimulates cells called fibroblasts.  And these are the cells that are in charge of laying down new muscle tissue.  This is what you want.  Every workout the idea is to create a little bit of damage.  It’s a catabolic process.  The whole point being that the body will adapt to that by laying down bigger, stronger tissue and the end result being a stronger, fitter body.

So that’s the desired end.  We’re actually injuring ourselves purposefully for the purpose of becoming stronger.  And in order for that strength to build we need these fibroblasts to march in there.  When the injury happens they get triggered.  They waltz over and start doing their thing, which is to take the collagen which is provided by Vitamin C in your body.  I’m not sure if your listeners out there are aware of that and the importance of getting Vitamin C.  All we need is Vitamin C and water and fibroblasts and the whole process can happen.

But if there’s a shortage of any of those then the healing is less than optimal.  So that’s one of the other issues.  And hopefully everybody out there is getting their Vitamin C and hydrating properly, and getting the protein needed for that kind of anabolic process for building on top, trying to build a bigger, stronger muscle after that injury takes place.  But I thought I’d mention that too because that’s another factor in the treatment and healing process.

BALLANTYNE: Well, that’s really good.  I could talk to you for hours on this.

Click here for part 4, where we are going to talk about low back pain.