Myofascial Release

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Myofascial release techniques relax and lengthen muscles and soft tissues. A myofascial release practitioner can help a person regain function and flexibility after injuries and treat chronic pain in many parts of your body.

What Is Fascia?

Connective tissues called fascia surround our muscles and envelop our entire bodies. Fasciae also play a key role in regulating our immune systems. However, inflammation, fibrosis, and thickening of our fascia can limit our range of motion and cause pain.

Injuries, inflammations, and surgeries can restrict fascia and create many health problems. For example, fascial restrictions can put up to 2,000 pounds per square inch (psi) on sensitive internal organs and structures, causing great pain. Additionally, fascial restrictions don’t show up on most body scans (x-rays, CAT scans, etc.).

What Is Myofascial Release?

Our fascial tissues promote health, but only when unrestricted. Myofascial release therapists put light, sustained pressure on their clients’ soft tissues to release fascial blockages and restrictions. They use techniques that lengthen fascia and free up muscles to create greater flexibility, reduce pain, and increase immune function.

The Health Benefits of Myofascial Release

Myofascial release can help soothe the symptoms of:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Migraine headaches
  • Back pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Injuries due to poor shoulder or hip alignment

Myofascial release therapy eliminates pain caused by muscles or other connective tissues that are “tied down” by tight fascia. Also, damaged fascial tissue can contribute to pain at “trigger points” that restrict blood flow to nearby areas, causing the damage to spread.

Some undergo myofascial release treatments to achieve better muscular and skeletal alignment before surgery. Others use it to increase their sports performance.

What Can You Expect from Your First Myofascial Release Session?

Myofascial release and massage therapy sessions are, in some ways, similar. Practitioners of both techniques use their hands to directly manipulate their clients’ soft tissues. However, myofascial release therapists typically use less pressure than massage therapists, and over a longer period of time. While massage therapists use firm pressure to push toxins out of muscles and create flexibility in soft tissues, myofascial release practitioners use light pressure to elongate fascial tissues and release myofascial restrictions.

Before a session, the practitioner will probably measure the body’s range of motion and body symmetry to identify potential areas of fascial restriction. Myofascial release practitioners will probably not use the oils or creams many massage therapists employ. They need direct skin-on-skin contact to detect and release your myofascial restrictions. Your therapist needs to feel the tight points at which your fasciae are stuck or “anchored.” These restrictions may not be at your pain points; they often pull on nearby body parts, creating pain. Remember: collagen, which makes up fascia, is stronger than steel cable and can transmit pressures of up to 2,000 psi.

Expect myofascial release sessions to be at least 30 minutes long, but some practitioners recommend an hour or more for the greatest benefit. People often undergo myofascial release daily (or every few days). A standard course of treatment can last weeks or months.

Using Myofascial Release for Self-Care

Because of the many benefits it can provide to keep people healthy and moving, regularly scheduled myofascial release sessions with a qualified practitioner can be great for self-care. Additionally, many myofascial release practitioners are able to send a person home with some helpful techniques for self-care. If you intend to use myofascial release at home, please consult with a practitioner for safety information specific to your goals, conditions, and environment.

Some athletes use foam rollers, tennis and lacrosse balls, and even PVC pipes to “smash,” “roll,” and “break up scar tissue.” These forms of self-myofascial release can soothe pain, reduce tension, and increase flexibility. Regardless of the tool you choose, be sure it has a “ribbed” or “tread-like” surface that grabs your skin so it can move against underlying tissues.

First, try a simple myofascial release self-care technique: let your body relax (especially the target area) onto your roller/ball. Keep your skin firmly in contact with your roller/ball, and feel the underlying tissues moving against each other as you shift your body weight. For this exercise, just apply a little pressure in the direction of your tension point and wait.

When conducting myofascial release techniques on yourself, remember one rule: be patient. It can take 30 seconds to a few minutes to trigger a fascial release. If you’re using a roller or a ball, don’t just roll around on it. Take the time to locate your tight spots and give yourself the time you need to create space in your soft tissues.

You can also include movement in your myofascial self-care. Once you’ve achieved a good connection between your skin and your roller/ball, use your body weight to press a little into your target area. Then, move a related limb (bend at the knee if you’re working on your quads, for example) and feel the sensation created when your muscles move and work the tissues between them and your roller/ball.

Be sure to test the affected area by moving it before and after your self-myofascial release. You’ll know you’ve created positive change if you feel:

  • Reduced pain
  • Increased ease of motion
  • Greater range of motion
  • Less inflammation

References:

  1. Bauer, B. (n.d.) What can you tell me about myofascial release therapy as a treatment for back pain? Does it work? Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/back-pain/expert-answers/myofascial-release/faq-20058136
  2. Ganfield, L. (n.d.) Myofascial Release Therapy. Retrieved from http://www.spine-health.com/treatment/physical-therapy/myofascial-release-therapy
  3. Langevin, H. (2014) Retrieved from http://www.the-rheumatologist.org/article/what-role-does-fascia-play-in-rheumatic-diseases/?singlepage=1
  4. What is myofascial release? (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.myofascialrelease.com/about/definition.aspx
  5. Wilson, R. (n.d.) Foam rollers don’t work: Understanding myofascial release. Retrieved from http://breakingmuscle.com/mobility-recovery/foam-rollers-dont-work-understanding-myofascial-release