Myofascial Release: Do you experience chronic pain?

What is Myofascial Release?

According to the founder of Myofascial Release John F. Barnes (2009), “Myofascial Release is a very effective hands-on technique that provides sustained pressure into myofascial restrictions to eliminate pain and restore motion. The theory of Myofascial Release requires an understanding of the fascial system (or connective tissue).”

Fascia is a thin connective tissue that covers all the organs of the body including the heart, lungs, brain, and spinal cord. This tissue covers every muscle and every fiber within each muscle, bone, nerve, artery, and vein. The fascial system is the only continuous structure that exists from head to toe without interruption (Barnes, 2009).

One may consider fascia analogous to a sheet of saran wrap, only continuous throughout the body. Much like saran wrap, trauma to the fascia will cause the fascial system to adhere to itself, inhibiting normal movement.  Barnes (2009) states, healthy fascia is “relaxed”, “wavy in configuration” and highly pliable, as your body encounters stress, habitual poor posture, repetitive use injuries, scarring, inflammation and trauma, the myofascial unit becomes compromised losing “pliability”, hardening and becoming “restricted”. “The changes they cause in the fascial system influence comfort and the functioning of our body. The fascia can exert excessive pressure producing pain or restriction of motion. They affect our flexibility and stability, and are a determining factor in our ability to withstand stress and strain.”

Placing your t-shirt between your pointer finger and thumb, and twisting it into a knot can demonstrate what trauma looks like to the myofascial unit.  Notice the surrounding material is pulled into the restriction.   Now apply this to the body; a fascial restriction on the lower right quadrant of your back, will affect the entire fascial system, pulling the body towards the restriction.

What is Myofascial Release used for?

Myofascial release is used for the relief of symptoms which Carol Manheim, the author of “Myofascial Release Manual” (2008) points out, “the pain is often described as being deep within the soft tissue or a joint”(p.6).  Characteristics of fascial pain include; sharp, burning, hot, stretching, diffuse, dull, toothache, and heavy. It is often difficult to locate the pain because it is usually a referred pain to an unrelated, uninjured part of the body, says Manheim (2008). Myofascial release is used to eliminate pain and restore motion throughout the body, Barnes (2009).

What is expected in treatment?

In a fascial treatment, the therapist will first assess the tissue to locate the restricted or affected areas. Once the therapist locates the restriction, they will use applied pressure into the restriction, while stabilizing with the free hand. The therapist will maintain this pressure until the client’s tissue allows them to  “sink into” it. As the tissue accepts the pressure the therapist will glide into the restriction performing a stretch. Each release will be a combination of the three most restricted directions stacked on top of each other. These can be applied with full hand contact or a combination of two fingers depending on the tissue size affected. This treatment is practiced without a medium/oil; and is thus referred to as a “dry” technique. Treatment that solely contains myofascial release is best performed in shorts and sports bra.  That being said myofascial and deep tissue massage are also a successful combination.

Marsha G. Clarke RMT


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