Myofascial release (MFR) is massage that targets all the connective tissue of the body, known as fascia. Fascia surrounds muscle, bone, nerve, artery, vein and internal organs. This tissue is found within and connects all structures in the body seamlessly. When it is functioning properly, fascia helps to hold the body upright and support its systems. However, restrictions often occur for many reasons, such as repetitive stress injury or poor posture.
A great example in understanding how fascia works is to imagine a sweater: if one piece of yarn is snagged and pulled, one can see the effects ripple through the entire sweater. It has been cited that these “snags” and “pulls”, or restrictions, can apply pressure of up to approximately 2,000 pound/square inch on regions of the body affected, causing pain and/or limited mobility.
A trained massage therapist can not only see and feel these fascial restrictions, but can also apply the myofascial release technique to soften them. This decreases the pressure, pain, and limited mobility noted above, and restores myofascial tissue to its full function.
Why Myofascial Release?
Because fascial restrictions do not show up on imaging tests such as X-rays, Myofascial Release can offer a possible solution to hard-to-treat pain. Professionals, such as massage therapists, are more likely to have the advantage in these cases due to their hands-on training to be able to see and feel fascial restriction during assessment. This means that pain caused by previously undetected soft tissue dysfunction can finally be properly treated. People who have been experiencing chronic pain may finally have relief!
Myofascial release benefits
As noted above, myofascial release treats connective tissue known as fascia. Fascia literally helps to hold the body upright, which means it has a direct impact on the ability to maintain good posture. For this reason, any pain associated with poor posture can be helped with myofascial release. There are two main ways to apply the myofascial technique- regionally (popularized by John Barnes) or holistically, as with Ida Rolf’s Structural Integration 10-session program for systematic postural re-alignment. This section focuses mainly on myofascial release used regionally or integrated into a therapeutic massage. Howerver, regardless of the application, any therapeutic treatment can benefit with this technique simply because fascia is ubiquitous. It is simply a matter of whether it will be directly or indirectly addressed.
What conditions can MFR help with?
Because MFR is considered a therapeutic massage technique, it can help many of the same conditions that therapeutic massage helps, with an emphasis on postural and repetitive stress injury pain. Research specifically has shown MFR to be effective with fibromyalgia.
What are the side effects of MFR?
The effect that MFR has on the body tissues is often called “unwinding”. Due to how fascia unwinds, a person may initially leave a session feeling like nothing happened. However, later that day or the next day, changes will begin to manifest.
Changes may also be noticed right away, and can be accompanied by soreness that lasts a day or two. Usually after the soreness goes away, improvement is noticed.
Other responses can include seemingly new pain in other areas, feeling “out of it”, and emotional releases. Any of these cases are considered part of the healing process.
What can I expect from a massage that uses the Myofascial Release technique?
Myofascial Release treatment is conducted similar to a regular massage, however, the hands-on techniques will feel different. During a treatment, the therapist addresses fascial restrictions applying what feels like sustained, gentle pressure and stretching. No oil is used.
Myofascial Release can be very specific; however, a lot of its power lies in being able to release large areas at a time. The technique will feel like its addressing broader areas of the body versus a single muscle. Your therapist will also assess your body more holistically, by looking at your posture.
Self Myofascial release
You can do myofascial release at home for self care too! Below are a few ways to do so.
One of the best ways to do so is with a foam roller, tennis or lacrosse ball:
While laying on the floor- place the ball under the spot on your body that needs releasing
Let the weight of your body sink into this spot
Hold for at least 30 seconds as it can take time for release to happen
As the spot releases, you may begin to feel where other related spots are tight- roll into them
Another option is to move a limb related to the tight spot- be sure to note how the spot feels before and after your self-care. You should feel less pain and have greater range of motion afterwards
Pin & Stretch
1. This informative video demonstrates the pin & stretch self care technique. This particular video shows the technique on the forearm, which is very helpful for carpal tunnel syndrome.
2. Neck pin & stretch:
A. Pin the tissue on top of your shoulder, with traction away from the neck. Once in this position, you can slowly bring your opposite ear to your opposite shoulder. Its really great to aim your gaze toward your armpit.
B. You can also pin the tissue just below your collar bone and rotate your head toward the opposite side.