Myofascial release is a gentle and very effective hands on manual therapy technique that uses sustained pressure into restrictions in the fascial system to eliminate pain, and restore motion and function to the body.
The word “myofascial” is derived from the Greek word “myo”, which means “muscle,” and the word fascial.
Fascia is the thin layer system of connective tissue in the body that resembles a spider web and extends without interruption from the top of the head to the tips of the toes. Fascia is very densely woven and interconnected, like a sweater. It covers and interpenetrates every muscle, bone, nerve, artery, vein, organ and cell in the body. It connects every part of the body to every other part.
In its natural state, fascia is relaxed, elastic and wavy in configuration, which causes it to resist a suddenly applied force. However, it plays a major role in the support of our bodies. Our bones can be thought of as tent poles and the fascial system as the guide wires that provide the tension to keep the tent up. Without adequate tension from the guide wires, the tent would hang limply on the poles. The same is true in our bodies. The fascial system provides the necessary tension to keep the body upright with the proper equilibrium.
Trauma to Fascia
Fascia is said to have a tensile strength of up to 2000 pounds per square inch and a memory. Therefore, if the system should become tight, restricted or unbalanced in any way, it can place incredible stress on any bone, organ, nerve, or other system in the body. This can cause pain and dysfunction in any area of the body. Because the fascial system is interconnected, symptoms may appear in areas of the body one might assume are unrelated to the actual restricted area.
Traumas of various kinds may cause restrictions in the fascial system.
Physical traumas may be caused by accidents, surgery, poor posture, stress, or remaining in the same position for an extended period of time. Mental traumas may also affect the fascial system. Emotions and mood alters the energy system of the body and in turn the posture of the body, which affects the fascia. Traumatic events such as an accident or violent act may be stored in the memory contained in the fascia and produce pain long after the original occurrence.
After trauma to the tissues, the body heals by forming adhesions. Adhesions are tiny strong collagen fibers that lay down “cross-links” in random patterns. They may be tough and wiry or filmy and thin. They are the building blocks of healing. The scars they form may be large enough to be seen by medical testing or microscopic. Regardless of the size, they exert tremendous tension on the tissues where they form.
Many standard tests such as x-rays, myelograms, CAT scans, electromyography, etc. do not show fascial restrictions. We believe an extremely high percentage of people suffering with pain and/or lack of motion may be having fascial problems. However, because of the limitations of the medical tests available, most go undiagnosed.
Adhesions and scar tissue remain in our bodies long after the original event that precipitated them. They may adhere the injured tissues to nerves, muscles, ligaments, tendons, fascia, or organs, which may cause decreased movement or pain. The tissues begin to shrink somewhat as adhesions are formed causing more irritation to the area and perpetuating the adhesion formation.
Myofascial Release Treatment
The term “myofascial release” was made popular by John Barnes, P.T., a physical therapist in PA. He has done much work with the fascial system and developed methods to release restrictions in that system.
Myofascial release uses slow, gentle, continuous stretching in the area of restriction until the body decides on its own to “release” and return to a more normal state. Since this technique is slow, gentle and non-invasive, it encourages but does not force the facial system to return to a relaxed position. This can take great patience on the part of the therapist.
Adhesions and scar tissue may be broken down using specific hands on techniques. These gentle techniques do not breakdown the primary adhesions that are responsible for healing, but do break down excessive cross-links that form scars and adhesions. When the adhesions are broken down, there is increased mobility, improved strength and decreased pain.
Myofascial release must be tailored to each individual patient, their specific complaint, and the overall condition of their physical, mental and emotional body. It must treat the WHOLE person. It is not an approach that may be applied cookie cutter style to all people. Many factors must be considered and weighed and the individual’s body must guide the treatment from start to finish. The therapist is only there to assist.
The goal of myofascial release is to relieve pain and restore function to allow the person to lead a full active life.