Why do we encourage our clients to do self myofascial release (SMR) when it has the potential to be painful. Isn't the first rule of training clients to do no harm? In the case of SMR, the pain is actually a good thing.
For some of you, you may be thinking, "what the hell is he talking about?"
Well SMR pretty much is a mini self massage through the use of foam rollers, lacrosse balls, tennis balls, massage balls and many other tools. (For a good resource, check out Trigger Point Therapy).
Muscles are made up of little fibers and cells. All muscles have fibers that align in a specific direction and all have the potential to grow in size(hypertrophy) and get stronger. However, when we exercise, these little fibers get what we call "micro tears" in which the body has to heal. When healed correctly, the muscle ends up stronger than before. As with any "injury," whether intentional (exercise) or unintentional (sprains, tears, strains etc) scar tissue (think of a web) is formed.
This is where good movement skills come in to play. When you have solid movement patterns, this scar tissue easily aligns with the surrounding muscle fibers. When you have less than stellar movement patterns, or a more serious injury, bigger, more restrictive areas of scar tissue forms, causing knots to form. As what is often the case, most people have compensation patterns and often times form knots in several areas, namely shoulders, neck, upper back/traps.
You need to break up these "knots" using the previously mentioned foam rollers and balls. As painful as it may be sometimes to break them up, it actually has tremendous benefit. For one, you increase blood flow to the area, which will encourage the healing process. Secondly putting pressure on these spots pulls on the scar tissue and forces it to realign with the surrounding muscle fibers.
Grab a foam roller or lax ball or massage ball. Find those knots, and work them out. It may be painful, but the only way to restore proper function to the muscle is to work through that pain (this is the only place I'll say "work through the pain"). I can guarantee it'll be the most uncomfortable thing you'll do in a gym, but in the long run, it will be worth it. The major spots that I see the most issues are the hips/glutes and upper back/shoulder/neck.
At AMP, we encourage, sometimes down right force our clients to do all sorts of SMR and stretching. AMP now has an LMT on staff to do Sports Massage to help aid in recovery and "treatment" of any aches, pains, or dysfunctions you may have.
We do this because we know that in the long run our clients will benefit. And in the end, that's what it's all about.