Fountain of Youth III: Skeletal Alignment and Muscle Pain 2b

July 30, 2009 at 9:54 AM | Posted in Fountain of Youth, Health and Fitness | Leave a comment
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First off, my apologies for the delay here. My camera arrived a week ago, but I was still waiting on the memory card. Now that I have both, I can post pictures of the tennis ball/foam roller work I spoke of in my last post. If you haven’t taken a good look at my last post, you might not get the full benefit out of this one. It is somewhat self-explanatory though.

Foam rollers are high-density pieces of foam molded into either full tubes or half-circles.  The full tube shapes are more useful, in my opinion.

Foam rollers are high-density pieces of foam molded into either full tubes or half-circles. The full tube shapes are more useful, in my opinion.

The picture you see here is a foam roller. They come in all sizes, colors and shapes, but the most common lengths are one foot and three feet long. They also come in semi-circles, but I find these considerably less useful.

While this piece of equipment looks harmless and perhaps even useless, let me assure you that it is here to cause you great pain and pleasure. The pain of releasing the muscle is necessary to experience the euphoria and instantaneous feeling of youth you can derive from this “device.”

Before you go hunting down trigger points, it will do you much good to first give everything a very thorough rolling with the foam. It’s very easy to do and takes anywhere from two minutes to ten minutes, depending on how thorough you want to be or how new you are to the roller. While you are rolling, if you find a spot that is extremely tender, ease onto it and stay there until the pain goes away. At that point, if you haven’t put your full body weight on it, do so, and repeat the process as many times as necessary. This is what we refer to as releasing the muscle. When you find a tender point, it’s a soft-tissue injury or trigger point that can be healed by manual pressure.

What follows is a list of pictures and some short explanations. Each one shows you how to hit the different lower body muscle groups.

Release the psoas with a softball because the muscle group is so deep.

Release the psoas with a softball because the muscle group is so deep.

The all-important psoas muscle that I have been making a huge fuss about can be released using (ideally) a softball. You can also use a tennis ball if you don’t have a softball, but you should set about getting one at some point because as your psoas gets used to the tennis ball, the softball will be needed for a better release. The muscle is extremely deep. You can get at it by placing the ball about 2 inches to either side of your navel. Then lay down on the ball, easing onto it at first. You can intensify the pressure by supporting your upper body on your hands, as I have done in the picture. Try moving up and down the muscle – it goes to the lumbar spine and attaches to the femur on your inner leg. Obviously, you can’t get it all, but you can do reasonably well.

The quads should be foam rolled and checked for trigger points.

The quads should be foam rolled and checked for trigger points.

The quads should be your next target. The one right in front, your rectus femoris, is a hip flexor and is likely very tight. It should object reasonably to rolling. You can begin anywhere, but roll up and down the front thighs. You may find it beneficial to shift your body weight mostly onto one side and do one side at a time. Be sure to go all the way up to the pelvis. There are a lot of tendons and ligaments here that will be loosened up by rolling them.

The ilitobial band is going to hurt.  Foam roll up and down, as seen here.

The iliotibial band is going to hurt. Foam roll up and down, as seen here.

The illiotibial band is probably going to hurt a lot, so be ready. It tends to get extremely tight in most people and needs to be rolled gently for a release. Roll up and down the outside of the leg, in the same manner as the quads are done. I know it hurts, but it’s important to do this one. Remember to stop if you find a tender spot and let it release. While you’re here, you can also hit the tensor fascia lata (TFL). When the roller is close to your hips, rotate a little bit so that your abs are closer to the roller. If you’re having some trouble locating it, check out the picture from the last post – it should be obvious after that.

The biceps femoris (hamstrings) group should be rolled.  It is often very tight.

The biceps femoris (hamstrings) group should be rolled. It is often very tight.

I think it’s rather rare to find trigger points in the hamstrings themselves, but foam rolling the group will always help to loosen the area and make it feel better. I normally train my hamstrings using stretch overload, however, so it may be that yours are tighter and holding trigger points. Search around and see what you find. Once again, you may find it useful to place more weight on one leg for extra pressure.

Alright, so for the next group I had no one to take a picture of me and a side view just wouldn’t get the message across. The adductor group is the group of muscles in your leg that allows you to bring your legs inward, or medially. To foam roll them, you basically lay on the ground and put the foam roller underneath one leg, on the inside. You’ll have to rotate your body a bit. Instead of me putting up a useless picture, here’s a link, and it even has an instructional video.

http://www.coreperformance.com/knowledge/movements/foam-roll-adductor.html

The glutes are a large, sheet-like group of muscles and tightness here is brutal.

The glutes are a large, sheet-like group of muscles and tightness here is brutal.

The glutes are an extremely important muscle group, too. There are three: gluteus maximus (the one we all like), gluteus medius (responsible in part for holding your leg in its socket) and gluteus minimus (doesn’t do much more than be a pain in the ass, literally). Muscle groups like this, which are more like a sheet or wall of muscle than a “rope,” respond very well to foam rolling. Similar groups are lats and pecs – both very broad and powerful. Foam roll them as in the picture – pretty simple.

On to the calves! First, let me just say that most people don’t have any pain in their calves, but they usually are holding latent trigger points. They don’t refer pain, or they don’t refer pain to the calves. Nonetheless, most people lack sufficient ankle mobility due to extremely tight calves, and the huge number of muscles in your calves tend to stick together and freeze up. So, long story short, if you refuse to roll your calves, you’re probably not going to get rid of much pain elsewhere.

The gastrocs and soleus are easily accessible using the foam roller.  The trick is getting your weight onto the roller and off your arms.

The gastrocs and soleus are easily accessible using the foam roller. The trick is getting your weight onto the roller and off your arms.

This picture shows rolling what we normally think of as the calves – the gastrocs. The soleus, a large sheet of muscle behind the gastrocs, is much more powerful, trigger-pointed up and usually stuck to the gastrocs themselves. Rolling them this way should give some release, and it may also alert you to the existence of some latent trigger points.

The peroneals are almost always tight in people and can cause significant knee pain if not released.

The peroneals are almost always tight in people and can cause significant knee pain if not released.

The peroneals are accessed by rolling the outsides of the calves. These muscles are extremely important because tension here can cause ankle and knee pain. Furthermore, the fascia around these muscles often becomes tight when the muscle stops working and restricts the flow of nutrients and water to the muscle, so it is frequently dehydrated as well. Rolling will probably hurt, and you may find trigger points. You know what to do.

The shins (or tibialis anterior) are prone to sticking to the bone and causing what we know as shin splints.

The shins (or tibialis anterior) are prone to sticking to the bone and causing what we know as shin splints.

The front of the calves, which we call the shin, is composed of the tibialis anterior muscle and a few other small muscles. They tend to stick to the bone and cease functioning properly. We know this disorder as shin splints, and it can definitely cause pain. Rolling the shins will help this problem. If you suffer frequently from shin splints, I suggest rolling at least a few times per week and anytime after running. It may take a few sessions for the muscles to stop sticking, too. You should immediately feel much better.

Alright, so you’ve successfully foam rolled the entire lower body. You should be feeling loose, maybe sore and much happier. I personally had to abandon the foam roller several times during my first session because the pain was so intense (mostly on the IT band). I still am working with some soft tissue injuries that are extremely deep in the quads, but I squatted on a hip that was out of alignment for months.

The tennis ball comes next. The tennis ball is, for all practical purposes, a very small version of the foam roller. Foam rolling loosens all of the tissue and it can direct you to trigger points in your muscles, but it usually can’t get rid of the tough ones. Instead, we call upon the tennis ball to do the more concentrated, focused work. Repeat all of the above movements, but this time use a tennis ball. If you REALLY want pictures, here’s a link:

http://laurensfitness.com/2008/02/27/tennis-ball-part-2-lower-body/

She does better pictures and is easier to look at than I am, so I figured I’d just give you the link instead. She covers a few really important ones that can only be hit well by the tennis ball – namely, the TFL, glute medius, piriformis and the foot.

There are a few other spots you want to hit with the tennis ball, too. I suggest you work around the top of the glutes, as there are often trigger points where the muscle attaches to the bone. For some guidance, when working through the calves, check out the trigger point diagram in the last post.  It helps to let the tennis ball really dig into the top of your thighs on the front.  And lastly, hit the inside of your knee with the tennis ball.  You use the same position as for the adductor roll.  It’s likely you’ll find some extremely painful trigger points right on the meat of your inner quads.

Furthermore, remember to stretch muscles after you are done releasing them. The muscles are more likely to respond well to a stretch after the fascia surrounding them has been released. If your toes are pointing out, you have sciatica, shin splints or you have any other shortening of a muscle, releasing it and then stretching it will return it to its correct length in about a week’s worth of work. if you think about it, that’s pretty good, considering the muscle took years to get into that position.

Finally, allow me to end on an apologetic note as well. This post is under 2000 words. I consider it acceptable because it’s really an addendum to the previous post. I will be getting to the upper body very soon, I promise.

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