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Beyond Foam Rolling: Foundations of Deep Tissue Self Bodywork for the IT Band

By: Roman Torgovitsky, Ph.D.
SOMA SYSTEM Founder and Master Instructor

IT Band (iliotibial band) tightness is a prevalent issue amongst athletes and is often attributed to pain in the hips, outer thighs, and knees. To address this, many athletes, trainers, and physical therapists have been using foam rollers to “roll out” the IT Band with varying degrees of success.  For decades, foam rolling has been utilized along with tennis and lacrosse ball rolling as a method of emulating our intuitive desire to rub out a body part that is hurting; it is often perceived as a self-administered massage or even manual therapy.  However, the effectiveness of foam rolling is far removed from that of professional grade bodywork and manual therapy.

This article will lay out the basic concepts to transition from foam rolling to deep tissue self-bodywork – a more informed and in-depth practice.

Why do we pay $100-$200/hour to see a professional bodyworker, when a friend could also give us a massage or the much desired shoulder rub?

Professional bodyworkers have spent years developing sensitivity through their hands in order to feel the different textures of the myofascial tissues within the body.  This allows them to feel the subtle changes in the body tissues, thus providing feedback on the manual intervention.  Just as seeing the road is essential for the driver as it provides visual feedback, feeling the subtle changes in the body provides tactile feedback necessary for guiding effective bodywork.  These professionals have devoted their time and careers to acquiring knowledge that helps them to develop strategies and techniques to most effectively help their clients.

Just like a bodyworker, a practitioner of deep tissue self-bodywork needs to develop sensitivity to guide their practice.  Instead of developing sensitivity in the hands however; self-bodywork requires the practitioner to develop sensory awareness of their own body.
This helps the practitioner to identify the problematic regions as well as moderate the intensity for optimal benefits.  With deep tissue self-bodywork, more is not always better.

This leads us to present two of the most important foundational concepts of the soma system® method of deep tissue self-bodywork:

Concept 1: Building sensory awareness, the full body tension map and being gentle

Most people have a very low level of body awareness.  Even athletes, who may have great proprioceptive (movement or position based) awareness, may have poor sensory (compression or tactile based) awareness.  Regular professional therapeutic bodywork can  help to increase sensory awareness.  Practicing self-bodywork without sensory awareness is akin to receiving a massage from a therapist who does not pay attention to the needs of their client.  Neither is very effective or pleasurable.

Therefore, at the initial stages of practicing self-bodywork, focus should be placed solely at improving body awareness and building a detailed compression-based map of the body in the brain.  Digging in deep and having an intense and painful experience is not the goal of deep tissue self-bodywork.  Instead, it should be gentle and exploratory, allowing the body to accept the manipulations and permit access to the deeper layers as the superficial layers release.

Concept 2: Understanding structural anatomy and anatomy palpation

Understanding anatomy, including knowing the locations of the muscles, what movements activate particular muscle groups and what movements can help differentiate between muscles, is an essential part of developing body awareness.  In self-bodywork, it helps the practitioner to identify the location of the tightness within a muscle group, and allows for more focused work.

Knowledge of anatomy also helps to make the self-bodywork practice more effective, by identifying the root of the issues rather than just targeting the painful region. For example, many athletes may complain of pain in the upper back and neck regions, and while the intuitive approach of foam rolling through the back may indeed feel good, the benefits are often very short term.  Instead, understanding that the postural imbalances that contribute to the tightness and pain in these areas actually stem from shortening of the muscles in the chest and fronts of the shoulders, would change the focus of the self-bodywork practice and make it more effective.  In fact, releasing the muscles in the front of the shoulders can result in a decrease in upper back pain with more lasting effects.  More information on postural contributions and the effects of the myofascial chains can be found in Tom Meyer’s “Anatomy Trains” and his KMI trainings.|

Beyond Foam Rolling

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(May 2015)