Many clients come to us for myofascial release or “MFR,” but what exactly is it and why is it such an amazing method for physical treatment and pain relief? It is a soft tissue therapy for the treatment of skeletal muscle and fascial immobility and pain, and is a safe, gentle and effective means of therapy in providing lasting results.
Fascia is a thin, tough, elastic type of connective tissue that covers all organs and muscles within the human body. Like a continuous spider web, fascia supports and protects these structures from head to toe. However this soft tissue can become restricted due to overuse, trauma, infectious agents, inflammatory responses, surgical procedures, or inactivity, often resulting in pain, muscle tension, and corresponding diminished blood flow. These myofascial restrictions can produce tensile pressures of approximately 2,000 pounds per square inch on pain sensitive structures. And since the whole body is connected through the fascial system like threads on a sweater, a restriction or “pull” in one area of the body can and will affect another area creating more restrictions, tightness, and possibly pain. This is why myofascial stretching in one area of the body can be felt in and will affect the other body areas, and the release of myofascial restrictions can affect other body organs through a release of tension in the whole fascial system. Restrictions cause uneven stresses in the body and inefficient movement patterns. Over time, our brains begin to recognize our new movement patterns, current posture, and muscles tension as being “normal,” not necessarily as efficient or pain free. MFR requires re-education of the central nervous system to accept the new posture and muscles tension as better and less painful.
Myofascial pain can have two sources. Pain can be generated from the skeletal muscle or connective tissues that are ‘bound down’ by tight fascia. In addition, pain can also be generated from damaged myofascial tissue itself, sometimes at a ‘trigger point’ where a contraction of muscle fibers has occurred. In either case, the restriction or contraction inhibits blood flow to the affected structures, thus accentuating the contraction process further unless the area is treated. The goal of MFR is to stretch and loosen the fascia so that it and other nearby structures can move more freely, and the patient’s motion is restored.
Just a few of the many common problems that can be treated by MFR include:
- Back Pain
- Pelvic Pain
- Neck Pain
- Improve skeletal and muscular alignment prior to a surgery, or help athletes achieve better alignment prior to sports competitions
- and many more!
So how is MFR done?
A) The direct myofascial release method engages the myofascial tissue “restrictive barrier” (tension). The tissue is loaded with a constant force until “release” occurs, also sometimes referred to as trigger point release. Practitioners use knuckles, elbows, or other tools to slowly stretch the fascia by applying a few kilograms of force. Direct myofascial release is an attempt to bring about changes in the myofascial structures by stretching or elongating fascia, or mobilizing adhesive tissues. The practitioner moves slowly through the layers of the fascia until the deeper tissues are reached.
B) The indirect method involves a gentle stretch, with only a few grams of pressure, which is said to allow the fascia to “unwind” itself, guiding the dysfunctional tissue along the path of least resistance until free movement is achieved. They key to this method is sustained pressure over time. In this technique the therapist lightly contacts the fascia with relaxed hands, and slowly stretches the fascia until reaching a barrier/restriction. We then maintain a light pressure to stretch the barrier for approximately 3–5 minutes, until a release occurs.
How long do the treatments last?
Most sessions last at least 30 but optimally 55 minutes or more per session and can be conducted daily or every few days.
For long lasting results, sessions typically take place over a few weeks or months, depending on the nature and intensity of disability.
So whether or not you’ve been treated with MFR, if you have long-standing pain that has not responded to more traditional forms of medical and physical therapy treatment, consider MFR. At PITG we are therapists that have been certified in the MFR technique and I can tell you first hand as not only a practitioner but also as a client, it’s amazing and it works!
In good health,