Muscle Adhesions: Are They Getting in the Way of Your Athletic Performance?

Krista BugdenIASTM, Mobility & Recovery, Pain ReliefLeave a Comment

“Muscle adhesion.”

You may have heard the term in your physical therapist’s or doctor’s office. Or perhaps you came across in it when googling your symptoms.

But what are muscle adhesions?

A muscle adhesion is scar tissue that has developed in the muscles. It can cause muscle weakness, pain, and a limited range of motion. And it frequently goes undiagnosed.

Let us break this down a little further.

How Are Muscle Adhesions Formed?

Like other scar tissue in the body, a muscle adhesion results from the body’s self-healing mechanisms. Even small, micro-injuries may produce adhesions that cause big problems.

Over time, repeatedly bad posture can create adhesions. The muscles and related tissues are placed under stress time and time again. You may notice your mid-back or shoulders become sore. In turn, this stress can create micro-tears in the muscles. Your body fixes them by laying down scar tissue.

Scar tissue is strong and supportive. It’s a natural part of our body’s healing process. Yet, it may leave you stuck with a giant knot in your back or shoulder that you just can’t shake. And ultimately, it leads to more pain.

In fact, any repetitive activity or injury can lead to an adhesion. If you sprain or strain a muscle, scar tissue forms. The sprain or strain itself might heal – but as part of that healing process, muscle adhesions may form creating a limited range of motion, amongst other issues.

Runners and sprinters develop these adhesions in their leg muscle due to repetitive trauma. And the same goes for other sports or athletes. If you’re overtraining a particular muscle group, micro-tears develop. Repeated micro-tears combined with inadequate rest may lead to pain caused by a muscle adhesion.

These adhesions are made of dense fibrous tissue. As aforementioned, they are strong and supportive – which helps prevent the injury or micro-injury from happening again. Yet, the muscle tissue becomes stuck together. These structures normally move freely, allowing for easy movement. When this tissue is restricted, it causes pain, weakness, and limited mobility. Consequently, other problems or injuries can arise.

Other risk factors leading to muscle adhesions include nutritional deficiencies or imbalances, infection causing inflammation, and other inflammatory conditions like arthritis or age-related diseases.

If an adhesion isn’t treated properly or is overlooked, it may begin to impact surrounding structures. Everything in the body is connected. If a dysfunction is present in a nearby structure, it’s only a matter of time before pain or dysfunction occurs elsewhere. More serious issues, such as a muscle tear, a fracture, early arthritis symptoms, or chronic tendonitis could develop.

How Muscle Adhesions Impact Your Athletic Performance

Muscle adhesions can become extremely painful. They also limit movement. If you’re a tennis player who can’t swing your arm fully back because you can’t or because it’s too painful, your performance is going to suffer. The same force won’t be applied to the tennis ball.

If you go to perform a deadlift, but can’t bend down to pick up the weight, again, it’s going to create issues regarding performance. Due to an adhesion in your back or legs, you might not physically be able to perform a full deadlift. You might be unable to increase your weight or amp up your routine until your muscle adhesion is dealt with.

For a surprisingly small issue, muscle adhesions can have big consequences. When the tissues stick together, tension may be placed on tendons or other muscles that weren’t made to handle the stress, and nerves may become pinched. Pinched nerves can lead to a whole array of other problems, such as tingling, weakness, and numbness. Further, you may feel weaker due to the inadequate recruitment of muscle fibers – which is restricted by the muscle adhesion.

It poses a frustrating dilemma. You can’t lift as much. Your range of motion is impacted. And you might experience a cascade of other events, such as a pinched nerve.

The Importance of Getting Rid of Muscle Adhesions

As aforementioned, your performance greatly suffers. You might have difficulty reaching your weightlifting or Crossfit goals. In fact, you might have trouble even performing certain exercises. And you risk injury.

These adhesions can further disrupt neural function, as well as impact blood flow and supply. In turn, these small spots can actually create bigger issues with your overall health. Your body functions as a whole. If one part of the body struggles to communicate with another part of the body, dysfunctions and illness may arise.

Further, structural imbalances may result as you move in a way to avoid pain caused by the adhesion. Problems, such as spinal or bone deformities, can gradually occur over time – which are not exactly ideal. But it does offer a reason to address and take care of your injury – no matter the size – and especially to avoid a far worse situation in the future.

How You Can Get Rid of Your Muscle Adhesions

Stretching can break up adhesions to a certain degree. Stretching is also an important part of warming up and cooling down. For static stretches, hold the position for at least 20-30 seconds. Dynamic stretches can also help, specifically in improving your range of motion. For example, if you have an adhesion in your leg muscles, consider swinging your leg back and forth as your ‘warm up.’ However, if anything causes increased pain, ease off or stop performing the stretch.

Other methods that help break up adhesions include self-myofascial release, heat therapy, rest, and strengthening. Below, we explain these techniques and methods in more detail.

What is Self-Myofascial Release?

If you’ve ever been to a registered massage therapist or a physical therapist’s office, you may have experienced myofascial release first hand. This technique involves the application of a sustained pressure and rubbing motion to release the tension and “stuck” tissues. In other words, it releases muscle adhesions.

In most forms of myofascial release, the adhesions are referred to as ‘trigger points’ or ‘knots.’ The rubbing and sustained pressure lengthens these tissues, flushes waste or toxins away from the area, and can relieve any pains associated with the spot.

We recommend getting your muscle adhesion checked out by a trained professional, such as a doctor or manual therapist. However, if this isn’t available to you or you’ve inquired with them about it, and they’ve given you the green light – here is a self-myofascial release technique you can apply.
What do you need? Your hand, elbow, or thumb can work. Other tools you can use include a foam roller, a tennis ball, lacrosse ball, or another massage ball. The smaller objects are better used for harder to reach and deeper spots – think your glutes or mid back. You can use a tennis ball or lacrosse ball by sitting on it and rolling back and forth or in a circular motion. Or you can use it for your back with the ball placed between you and a wall.

What kind of motion should you apply? You have options. And it mostly comes down to what feels the best for you and your body. You can go back and forth, side to side, or in a circular motion over the object.
How much pressure should you use? If you aren’t in tune with your body, this might be the tricky part. Basically, you want to apply enough pressure so that you’re doing something, but you also don’t want to apply too much pressure that you might be causing more harm than good. If you’re new to foam rolling or self-myofascial release techniques, be gentle. It’s always better to be cautious than not. And it will cause slight pain – but moderate pain. It should feel like you are releasing something – like a “good pain.”
Where do I perform this on myself? Do this technique directly on the muscle adhesion. This is known as the “trigger point.”
How long should I do it for? For beginners, aim for about 30 seconds to 1 minute on the same spot. If you’re experienced, you can possibly stay longer, such as for a couple of minutes. This technique can be completed 2-3 times per day.

And… If you really aren’t sure what you are doing, seek out professional help. Even one appointment with a trained and registered massage therapist or physical therapist can help answer any questions you might have.

Other benefits of seeking out help from a professional include discovering preventative methods and tackling other issues or injuries that could potentially be contributing to your pain.

Heat Therapy Can Also Help!

Heat therapy helps relax the muscles and increases blood flow to the area. When a muscle adhesion occurs, muscles in the surrounding areas may become tight in response to the restriction. Consequently, you experience increased tension and more pain. Try a sauna or a hot shower or bath. Heat pads applied for 10-15 minutes at a time have also proven to help a variety of people deal with their muscle adhesions.

Rest is a Good Idea.

Combined with the appropriate treatment strategy, rest allows your body time to heal. If you continue to work the muscle group that has an adhesion, you increase your risk of a more serious injury. In turn, you’ll experience major setbacks standing in the way of your fitness goals. Don’t take that risk! Take a break. Give your body time to heal and reset. During this time, you can practice self-myofascial release techniques and apply heat therapy to the area.

Once the Muscle Adhesion is Released, Spend Time Strengthening the Area.

Frequently, muscle adhesions occur due to muscle imbalances. You should still stretch the area. Yet, strengthening the area can also help prevent future recurrence. For example, if the adhesion was in your mid-back or shoulder, you may want to consider throwing postural exercises into your regular routine. Again, a trained professional may be able to help better guide you on what exercises you should be doing.

Try Using the Muscle Adhesion Tools

Sidekick designs tools that help release adhesions. If you find you are prone to muscle adhesions, you might want to consider their products or similar instruments. These tools or instruments assist in soft tissue mobilization. They improve blood flow to the affected area and in turn, release adhesions in the muscle tissue.

What’s the difference between these tools and foam rollers? How they act on the adhesion is very similar. It comes back to the myofascial release technique. But tools such as this can get into those hard-to-reach areas. It’s also easier to carry around than a foam roller. In fact, studies showed a greater range of motion improvements from these smaller tools when compared to foam rollers.

The scraping action of the smaller tool stretches the tissue underneath. At the same time, it applies a moderate amount of pressure. This motion creates small microtraumas. These microtraumas cause the collagen in the surrounding area to produce healthy connective tissue. This connective tissue replaces the scar tissue – releasing your muscle adhesion. Try both foam rolling and other tools. Find out which one works best for you and your body.

Don’t Let Muscle Adhesions Get in Your Way!

Muscle adhesions can lead to more serious injuries. Deal with them before they become bigger problems. Take the necessary precautions. Integrate the above advice and methods into your regular routine. Regularly foam roll and stretch. Attend massage therapy sessions. Use heat when you need it. And rest when you feel you should. Become more in tune with your body and what it needs. Pave your way toward optimal health and start hitting each and every one of your fitness goals, starting today!

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Krista Bugden

Krista Bugden has worked as a Rehab Exercise Expert at a physiotherapist clinic in Ottawa, Canada for the past 4 years. She has a Honours Bachelor Degree in Human Kinetics from the University of Ottawa. She uses her extensive knowledge in this area to educate others through well-researched and informative articles. Her passions include helping others and inspiring each person she meets to get the most out of their life.

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