What Is Myofascial Release?

massageMany people suffer with a specific type of chronic pain caused by extreme pressure on trigger points in muscles. The pressure manifests as referred pain in unrelated parts of the body. This is a condition known as myofascial pain syndrome. Myofascial release is a treatment technique performed by trained practitioners that can bring relief to patients with this condition. If you are wondering what is myofascial release and if it might help you, read on to discover the answers to these questions and more.

muscle fasciaUnderstanding the Fascia

  • The fascia is a strong, flexible continuous sheath of tissue with a tensile strength of 2,000 lbs. It is a liquid crystalline matrix covering all the bones and muscles in the human body and it moves along with you without restriction when it is healthy. It connects all parts of the body together, including the bones, muscles, tendons, joints and organs. Its structure is similar to that of a spider web.
  • The fascia plays a role in flexibility, range of motion, posture and strength. Because it is one large, continuous piece of tissue, if a specific area of the fascia sustains damage, it can affect any part of the body.

What Causes Myofascial Pain Syndrome?

  • Surgery, inflammation, trauma, muscle tension and repetitive motion injuries are the most common causes of myofascial restrictions on pain sensitive structures in the body. Other causes are poor posture and emotional stress. Standard medical diagnostic tests such as electromyography, myelograms, CAT scans or X-rays are unable to detect the pressure, which can be as much as 2,000 pounds per square inch. A physical exam is necessary to diagnose this problem. Applying gentle pressure with the fingers on various trigger points will reveal where the areas are tense. Sometimes pressing on these trigger points will cause the muscle to twitch.

How Myofascial Release Helps with Pain

  • neckpainWhen the body experiences inflammation or trauma, the fascia loses its flexibility. This can cause a variety of health problems, including muscle pain, spasms, headaches, difficulty breathing, numbness and reduced range of motion.
  • Myofascial release restores the fascia to its healthy state making it soft, pliable and relaxed. This treatment technique can improve circulation and breathing. It decreases tension in the muscles and alleviates muscle spasms. It can also improve flexibility to restore normal joint movement and good posture. The practitioner’s goals include relaxing deep tissue and breaking down scar tissue to restore normal function.

mfr therapistWhat Does the Practitioner Do?

  • Myofascial release is a non-invasive, hands-on technique that is effective and safe. The practitioner applies gentle but sustained pressure with the hands to the restricted areas. When pressure is applied slowly in the proper place, the fascia elongates. As the tissue lengthens, it becomes reorganized to promote good health and restore proper movement.
  • This technique relaxes the entire fascia but the practitioner will decide where to apply pressure for the best results. Even though tension in the neck causes headaches, the practitioner may apply pressure on the lower back and hips.
  • Direct myofascial release involves using the knuckles to compress and apply pressure on the fascia in areas where injury or scar tissue are restricting or compressing the fascia. This relaxes the fascia and provides the patient with better flexibility and mobility, which decreases pain. This technique is the original form of this type of applied pressure therapy.
  • A newer form of this treatment was first introduced during the 1980s and is called indirect myofascial release. This requires the practitioner to apply a good deal less pressure in the appropriate area and add a slight twist. This unwinds the fascia while increasing heat and blood flow to the affected area. This speeds up the natural healing process offering the patient relief from pain.

Locating the specific trigger point responsible for the patient’s pain can be difficult. This is why many practitioners will apply these treatment techniques over broad areas of muscle instead of attempting to target a single point.

What is Treatment Like for the Patient?

  • Practitioners of myofascial release customize each session to suit the patient’s individual needs. Many myofascial release treatments are offered as part of a massage therapy session. Sessions may take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour or more.
  • Some patients will experience very light pressure while others may require a deeper pressure to achieve the desired results. Either way, patients are encouraged to communicate with the practitioner during the session because the pressure should never be beyond what the patient can tolerate. The therapist will massage and stretch those areas that feel tight and rigid until the tension is released. These techniques release trigger points through a wide section of the muscular system and reduce tension throughout the entire body.

Some patients will feel the tissues stretch in the area where the practitioner is working. A slight burning sensation in the skin is also normal and nothing for the patient to worry about.

Who Can Benefit from This Type of Therapy?

  • Many patients suffering from chronic soft tissue discomfort often seek treatment from their regular physicians but fail to find relief through traditional treatments such as injections of steroids or numbing agents directly into trigger points. Dry needling is another technique that may or may not be effective. This involves inserting a needle in several locations in the tissue surrounding the trigger point. Other patients seek pain relief without having to rely on antidepressants, sedatives or potentially addicting prescription pain medications, all of which are prescribed for people with this type of pain. In some cases, these treatments only offer temporary relief. Myofascial release offers a safe and effective alternative for pain relief for all of these patients.
  • A qualified practitioner can provide a variety of other non-invasive and self-treatment options to complement myofascial release. Hot showers and applying hot packs to the affected areas can reduce pain and relieve tension. Ultrasound therapy delivers sound waves to increase warmth and improve blood circulation. Physical therapists can provide massage therapy using pressure on specific muscles or long hand strokes to provide pain relief. Exercises designed to strengthen muscles around the trigger point and improve posture prevent muscles from working too hard and can be particularly helpful for patients with neck pain. Therapists will often guide patients through a series of gentle stretching exercises. Spraying a numbing solution on the skin can relieve pain in trigger points when stretching.

Patients with chronic pain should always consult with a licensed physician to rule out any illness or disease that may be causing the pain. Myofascial release may be effective for relieving pain in those patients that fail to respond to medical treatment.