Fri, 12/02/16, 07:18:06 PM

Other recent articles:

Email Newsletter - Get It Now!


Published November 17, 2007

How to give yourself a “deep tissue massage”

Like I said last week, I want to talk about a really neat type of stretching called self-myofascial release (SMFR).  Self-myofascial release is a great way to decrease tightness in your muscles because it essentially breaks up the knots in your muscles, allowing for your muscles to lengthen properly.

Picture a piece of yarn with a knot in it.  What SMFR does is it breaks that knot up; once the knot is broken up, the yarn can stretch out even farther.  The same concept applies to your muscles.  In order to properly perform SMFR, you need to use a special foam roller that’s stiff enough to provide pressure against the knots in your muscles.  You can find these foam rollers at stores such as Wal-mart, Target, and Dick’s Sporting Goods.

For an example of how to perform self-myofascial release, I’m going to describe how to use SMFR to roll out the IT band (a tendinous band that travels from the hip to the knee).  If you ever go out for a run and have pain in the outside of your knee or hip, chances are it’s a tight IT band. 

IT band SMFR
SMFR for the IT band.

To roll out the IT band, start at the point farthest away from the heart.  In this example, we’ll start down by the knee.  You want to lie on top of the foam roller as the picture shows.  The more you allow your body weight to rest on the roller, the more sensitive you’ll be to the knots.  Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you, this process will be painful at first, just as a deep tissue massage is painful.  As you repeatedly perform SMFR, the knots will break up and the pain will reduce.  Just be aware that pain is normal when first performing SMFR.  Just be patient, and after a few weeks, the pain won’t be nearly as bad.

Starting down at the knee, start to roll your body down the roller until you get to a sore spot (a knot).  Once on that spot, rest on it for approximately 30 seconds.  This allows the knot to slowly start to break up.  The most important thing to remember is to stay on the knot for 30 seconds.  If you continue rolling before the 30 seconds is up, the knot will just get tighter (definitely a bad thing). 

After holding on the knot for 30 seconds, the pain should decrease by 50-70%.  Once the 30 seconds are up, continue rolling up the side of your leg until you reach the next sore spot.  Hold again.  Repeat this process until you roll all the way up to your hip. 

At first, it may take a long time to finish rolling out your leg.  It really depends on how many knots you have.  I’ve performed this on some clients where it took 10 minutes just to do one leg.  After a while though, we’d zip right up the leg in a minute or two.  Just be patient; the knots will slowly start to go away.

Once you roll the leg out, you can repeat the process if you want, but it’s not necessary.  After the leg is rolled out, the knots should be broken up a little bit.  Since they’re broken up, this is a good time to perform static stretching with 30 second holds.  The idea is that since the knots have been worked out a little, the muscle or tissue can now be stretched out a little farther; this leads to greater flexibility gains.

There’re all kinds of different SMFR exercises you can perform on the different muscles and tissues of your body.  The roller that you buy should come with a booklet or CD full of these different exercises. 

You’ll be amazed at what foam rolling can do for tight muscles.  I’ve seen everything from knee pains to low back pains disappear as a result of foam rolling.  So grab a stick to bite on, a box of tissues to cry with, or someone to yell at, and give self-myofascial release a chance.  If you can be patient with the pain, you’ll be amazed by the gain.  Okay that was corny, but seriously though, just like a deep tissue massage, it can really help.  Oh yeah, remember to breathe!

Dan Falkenberg is the co-founder and co-owner of Your Live Trainers. He can be reached at

Tags: , foam rolling, self-myofascial release


17 comment(s) on this page. Add your own comment below.

November 24, 2007 12:06am [ 1 ]

Just wanted to let you know that I really look forward to your articles, they're very informative and well writtern. I hope you're planning on something for keepin off the weight during the holidays!

November 24, 2007 12:05pm [ 2 ]

Thanks a lot Dawn! I really appreciate your interest in what I write. If you ever have any other suggestions, please feel free to suggest away!

December 7, 2009 5:35am [ 3 ]

Do you have any suggestions on getting rid of knot in the back?

December 8, 2009 11:24am [ 4 ]

Hi Claribell,

Thanks for the question. Other than SMFR, I would suggest consulting with a massage therapist. They would be your best option. Hope that helps.


June 16, 2010 10:49am [ 5 ]

This seems to be working. My pain level was through the roof, in fact I was limping for the last month. I have hip, glutes,thigh and siatica pain. The knots are huge and hard. Now after rolling and massaging I am not limping and the pain level has decreased. I have a snapping hip. Not sure if I will have to deal with this all my life?

September 9, 2010 8:54pm [ 6 ]

Does this really work ? I have knots on the inside of my right thigh !

What diameter of tube do you use ? Also do you just roll from knee to hip for eg once ? Ie stopping at each knot ?

September 23, 2010 10:25am [ 7 ]

Hi Steve,

Thanks for your comment. This method works if you do it right. You can buy the roller at any sporting goods store. Start furthest away from your heart and roll toward it. Stop on each knot and let it sit there. I would continue to repeat the process a couple of times. Have fun!


September 23, 2010 10:25am [ 8 ]

Hi Steve,

Thanks for your comment. This method works if you do it right. You can buy the roller at any sporting goods store. Start furthest away from your heart and roll toward it. Stop on each knot and let it sit there. I would continue to repeat the process a couple of times. Have fun!


roger david
July 5, 2011 4:16am [ 9 ]

I used to work-out since my 10th grade upto four years after that.but i never used to massgae my body parts.sometimes i used to overtrain my muscles specially biceps. Now It has been 4 years that i have worked out.BUt my muscles are still hard everywhere on my any time i try lifting any kind of weight,my muscles get hardened just after few seconds so that i canot lift it anymore.they become as hard as rock.This feeling is for every parts i.e shoulders,back,biceps,triceps,calves,etc Can u suggest what should I go for to loosen up my mucsles once again so dat I can resume work out.Which type of massage I should opt for

July 29, 2011 11:01am [ 10 ]

Hi Roger,

I would suggest scrolling back up to the bottom of this article and clicking on the "flexibility" tag. Under the "flexibility" tag, you will see different articles on flexibility exercises ... they are toward the bottom of the list.


December 1, 2011 12:42am [ 11 ]

hi, I had surgery for a stomach hernia, above the navel about a year and half ago. I still have scar tissue and I would like to get rid of it. I don't have money to go to a massage therapist and my back is fused from an operation for scoliosis when I was 12 and don't want to risk getting hurt. Can you suggest something to do for the scar tissue that I can do myself? I surely would appriciate it. Thanks!


December 1, 2011 12:58am [ 12 ]

Hi Elaynna,

Unfortunately, that is out of my realm of knowledge. While a plastic surgeon is probably one to talk to about this, as far as home advice, I can speak from personal experience, but not professional experience/knowledge. From a former surgery, the therapist I had would use lotion and massage the scarring to break it apart. Also, there are creams/lotions out there that you can buy over-the-counter, but I have no idea if they are effective. The one unfortunate point to make is if the scarring has been there for some time, it may be to late to reverse the changes now that it isn't new tissue. Good luck, though!


June 8, 2012 12:46am [ 13 ]

I've been doing this on my legs. It seems that I can't move an inch without hitting a new spot. Same on the inside and outside of the legs. Calf area is less so but still a lot of issues. Is that unusual? It's taking me an hour or more to do one leg. Any suggestions for so many places?

June 8, 2012 6:57am [ 14 ]

Hi Doug,

You'll find that it may take weeks until you start to work out all the knots, although an hour does seem like a long time. Maybe put a little less of your body weight on the foam roller to see if that helps. If you have varicose/spider veins, I would suggest not doing this in those areas.


June 9, 2012 3:17pm [ 15 ]

Thanks Dan, My legs are a mess. I have larger than usual calf muscles, they developed when I was young, and there seems to be the upper layer and the lower layer which is where the problems are. Getting to the lower layer takes a lot of work. I can feel the muscle globs down below and they are long and fibrous (?) feeling. It is actually causing a lot of pain in my feet from them pulling and has also seemed to cause similar tightness in my feet (walking barefoot on rough ground is very sensitive). I've been working on these issues for a while but only recently started using the roller technique and it's helping. Just wish it wouldn't take so long for greater results.

September 2, 2013 7:13am [ 16 ]

Many thanks. The explanation and your advise how to use rocks and gives relief. I can sleep on my left side much better I was spending $153 to $107 to $60 per week and drives many miles. Reading so many blogs. The 30 seconds hold does the trick. Also the direction of roll is important. DO you have a book?

February 4, 2016 3:43pm [ 17 ]

I think the best type of massage you can get is from a hi-Dow. Beating one your skin and muscles wont do as much as stimulating them the way that nerves are supposed to do. These all seem pretty cool, but if you want the maximum results, you have to go to unconventional methods.

Add a Comment

Please be civil.

( )

( Use Markdown for formatting (this is optional))