The Benefits of Soft Tissue Maintenance Post Run
Editor’s Note: This article is written by guest contributor, Dr. Grant Nobles, owner of KC CORE MN, a non-medicinal pain therapy and chiropractic clinic located in the Southdale Medical Center in Edina, MN. The article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Minneapolis Running.
Seems like everywhere you look lately there are new tools coming out to help with self soft tissue therapy; foam rollers, lacrosse balls, PVC pipe, roller sticks, etc. But what benefits are you actually getting from them, how often should you be using them, and are they even worth using?
What is Fascia?
We’ll start by first describing what ‘fascia’ is. Simply put it is the connective tissue that covers muscles and organs throughout the whole body, which was thought to be what these tools were mobilizing. Initially, we thought fascia was just the covering of muscles and organs, through research we have found that fascia is full of receptors and that 30-40 percent of force generated from a muscle is transmitted not along a tendon, but rather the connective tissues within the muscle.
Where issues arise is when there is aberrant stress to the tissues, i.e. over-use, prolonged sitting, poor nutrition and inadequate hydration, thus causing increased density (myofascial lesions) and disruption of information to the brain. Where we find issues with runners is the amount of stress put on these tissues. Over time these myofascial lesions lead to changes in muscle tone and joint mobility, eventually leading to pain. As running is still considered the world’s most popular form of exercise, statistics continue to show about 50% report injury.
Benefits of Self Soft Tissue Maintenance
What has the research shown us of the benefits of self soft tissue maintenance? It has been shown it can increase short-term flexibility that lasts about 10 minutes and does not affect athletic performance acutely, as has been shown with stretching. It was also shown to be able to increase flexibility in the long-term, in a program that lasts longer than 2 weeks. Self tissue therapy can also reduce muscle soreness and increase your pain threshold as a result of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) following a tough workout.
The mechanism by which it achieves these effects is still not particularly clear, the current best evidence points towards a neurophysiological mechanism involving muscle activity, i.e. trying to restore tissue to its normal resting state. For decreasing soreness, it is believed to inhibit the pain feedback to the brain, similar to the way in which exercise is effective.
Frequency of Soft Tissue Maintenance
How often and how long should you be performing soft tissue maintenance? Current best evidence does not set an exact number of times or how long to perform. We do know with age, the younger you are the more pliable your tissues are. My suggestion to runners is the decade of age is the number of times per week to perform, i.e. 30 years old = 3 x/week, 42 years old=4 x/week, etc. This also is just a general recommendation; the frequency and duration of your training may constitute you to perform more soft tissue maintenance. We also know that healthy tissue should not hurt if you perform self soft tissue maintenance, find areas of soreness and spend time mobilizing that area until soreness is reduced.
Improve Flexibility and Performance
In summary, research has shown that self soft tissue maintenance is a great way to improve flexibility, both short and long term without affecting athletic performance. It has also shown that it can decrease muscle soreness and decrease a person’s pain threshold. If you continue to experience issues when running after performing self soft tissue maintenance, seek the advice of a health care professional specializing in movement injuries.
Move Well. Move Often.
About The Doctor
Dr. Nobles is the owner of KC CORE MN, a non-medicinal pain therapy and chiropractic clinic located in the Southdale Medical Center in Edina, MN. He specializes in soft tissues injuries, focusing his approach to treatment on Graston instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization and joint mobilization. Most running injuries are the result of over-use, mechanical in nature resulting in compensatory patterns. In his previous four years practicing in Iowa he was the co-team physician for the area high school sports teams, worked with Morningside College Track and Cross Country team, and performed talks and workshops for Peak Performance running shoe store.