When is appropriate to self release?

December 3, 2018

Have you ever walked past a foam roller at the gym and thought “I might try that one day?” Perhaps you’ve got a spikey ball at home that’s gathering dust because you’re not sure when to use it? A common question asked is “when is it best to self-release?” well, it depends on what you are trying to achieve.

One thing I teach my patients is to take ownership of their bodies and listen to the feedback their tissues are giving them. It will clue you to where and when to use self-release strategies (see our other posts regarding different self-release tools). If we are using self-releasing to supplement training, I’ll get my patients to do pre-exercise assessments relevant to their training session (e.g. running or squatting). If you’re in a high-load training period or new to exercise you may notice pre-exercise muscle tightness, soreness (DOMS), or a movement just doesn’t feel smooth. If this is the case, I encourage my patients to focus on where they felt discomfort (e.g. front of the hip) then they will do short bouts of self-releasing before re-testing again. More often than not, they’ve alleviated some of the discomforts, and if not they keep exploring around that area or try a different self-release tool (perhaps a broad surface tool like a roller isn’t quite getting into the hip, so a more focal trigger ball is needed).

Occasionally athletes will ask if it is ok to self-release prior to competition in fear of impacting performance. One systematic found that self-releasing is effective at increasing joint range without negatively influencing performance and can be useful at reducing performance deficits related to muscle soreness. It concluded that exercise performance is not affected by small doses of self-releasing before a competition. With athletic populations, use self-releasing tools as an assessment, and scan for areas that are sore or stiff, and modify this sensation through a functional task. What if you would prefer to do some foam rolling after exercise as a cool down? The same systematic found that self-releasing after exercise was effective at reducing post-exercise muscle soreness. Using your roller or trigger ball after exercise has its benefits.

You might be at the end of this blog and thinking “well what if I don’t do any structured exercise but get sore from time to time”? You might have walked up Mt. Ainslie on the weekend, and now going down the stairs is hurting your bottom and thighs. Perhaps you spend a lot of time sitting at a computer, are a weekend gardener, or just tinker around the house. Almost everyone will suffer some form of muscular pain or ache from time to time. I recommend growing awareness around what movements are difficult or uncomfortable, implement self-releasing, and perform that movement/task again and see if it is more comfortable (duration of holds etc. vary depending on the patient, it is worth discussing this with your physiotherapist). If your pain is acutely sharp, it isn’t responding to self-release, or you think it is making it worse, then it may be worth booking an appointment with your physiotherapist to try and get to the bottom of it.

So, there you have it, self-release can be performed pre or post-exercise without impacting performance. If you are generally feeling a bit tender or sore, I would advise those who are unfamiliar with how to self-release to consult your physiotherapist before jumping straight on the trigger ball or foam roller, to avoid injury. They will be able to inform you where and how to focus your methods of self-releasing.

If you would like to find out more on self-releasing please contact one of our clinics or visit our website.


  1. Cheatham SW, Kolber MJ, Cain M, Lee M. The effects of self‐myofascial release using a foam roll or roller massager on joint range of motion, muscle recovery, and performance: a systematic review. International journal of sports physical therapy. 2015 Nov;10(6):827.
  2. Chaudhry H, Schleip R, Ji Z, Bukiet B, Maney M, Findley T. Three-dimensional mathematical model for deformation of human fasciae in manual therapy. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. 2008 Aug 1;108(8):379-90.
  3. Abels KM. The impact of foam rolling on explosive strength and excitability of the motor neuron pool.
  4. Hemmings BJ. Physiological, psychological and performance effects of massage therapy in sport: a review of the literature. Physical Therapy in Sport. 2001 Nov 1;2(4):165-70.
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