The Three R’s of Mobility: Roll, Release, and Rehydrate
As we get older, we often find ourselves needing some extra stretching for our stiff, tired or aching muscles. Fitness classes that incorporate stretching and muscle lengthening techniques, as well as gentle yoga are becoming more and more popular with older adults. However, stretching is not the only activity that will help us deal with stiffness and movement restrictions due to aging. In fact, techniques that address the myofascial may be even more effective for addressing stiffness and soreness due to aging.
Fascia refers to the connective tissue in your body that is renewable and made up primarily of water. It acts like an envelope or cover over the muscles, and the health of a person’s fascia affects all their movements. Dehydrated fascia can prevent proper movement of the body and can also cause pain, fatigue, headaches, and muscle aches.
Gentle self-myofascial release, or SMR, uses gentle pressure and movement with pliable balls or soft rollers. It is important to use soft tools for this technique rather than hard ones, since as we get older our tissue is more fragile. Techniques such as MELT © (www.meltmethod.com) can be very appropriate for older bodies, as they gently focus on tissue rehydration. Other techniques incorporate slightly firmer rollers and balls, and focus on breaking hydrogen bonds and removing adhesions (hard spots, bumps and lumps in the tissue). It is important to be careful not to apply too much pressure which can cause pain and muscle contractions. Here are some guidelines to help make your foam rolling more effective:
• Roll slowly, about an inch per second. Changes to the tissue are most likely to occur between about 90 and 120 seconds. For tender spots, roll and then hold on the spot for about 30 seconds, until you feel a reduction in tissue tenderness. Both active (slow rolling) and static (holding and compressing) techniques should be used.
• Use your roller as part of a dynamic warm up as well as during your cool down. For your warm-up you can use it prior to beginning your cardiovascular warm-up. While studies have shown that stretching before a workout is not recommended, rolling is different in that it will increase range of motion without decreasing muscle performance. Rolling can remove small adhesions between the layers of tissue and will also help improve motor patterns when done at the beginning of a workout.
• During your cool down period, foam rolling can help prevent and eliminate blood pooling, will speed up the process of recovering from the workout, and may help to prevent soreness.
Two exercises you can do at home without needing special equipment focus on the fascial tissue of the hands and feet. All you need is a tennis ball or slightly softer ball of the same size. Both exercises will help those with arthritis and other types of pain in the hands and feet:
Place your ball on a table and place your palm on top. Press your right hand into the ball and use your left hand to guide and support the movement. Release the pressure and then spread the fingers of your right hand. Next, gently close your fingers around the ball. Follow the same sequence on the other hand. Repeat this sequence a total of four times.
Place your ball on the floor and place a bare foot on the ball (hold onto a firm support surface for balance). Roll the arch of your foot across the ball from front to back four times. Next roll across from side to side four times (slowly and gently). Lean your arms and torso across your thighs if you want to increase the pressure. Perform the technique on both feet.