Myofascial Release

What Is It Myofascial Release

‘Myofascial’ comes from ‘myo’ (meaning muscle) and ‘fascia’ (band). Myofascial Release is a hands-on gentle massage therapy, applying sustained pressure into the fascia, which is the connective tissue providing support and protection for most structures in the body.

Fascia tissue wraps the muscles, bone, nerves and organs of the body and runs in an uninterrupted web from the top of the head to the tips of the toes. It is therefore essential to keep the fascia healthy and stretched; when the fascia becomes damaged or bound it can cause dysfunction, causing adhesions, inflammation or scar tissue. And, because it runs throughout our bodies, it can cause referred pain in other areas. Adhesions, can also limit the range of motion within a joint or cause muscle pain.

Myofascial Release Technique can help to alleviate pain and restore mobility and greater flexibility. Therapists are trained to feel and stretch very slowly into the fascial network. The massage is slow and when collagen, the glue-like texture within the fascia is found to be dense or thick there is fascial restriction. Myofascial Release Technique is not just massaging muscles, tendons or ligaments; the fascia must not be forced, but gently coaxed.

The therapist will provide a gentle and sustained, pressure for specific period of time – a minimum of 90 – 120 seconds – which permits fascia to naturally elongate and, it is intended, return to normal resting length which will restore the healthy status quo, giving greater flexibility, mobility and eliminating pain.

The technique of Mysofascial Release is used to treat many conditions, including:

  • Back Pain
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Emotional Trauma
  • Frozen Shoulder
  • Tennis Elbow
  • Chronic Pain
  • Neck Pain
  • Myofascial Syndrome
  • TMJ Syndrome – (clicking jaw)
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Whiplash.

What To Expect

Because you are unique and your tissues are quite individual and different from anyone else, all therapy sessions are one-to-one and your therapist will use different Release techniques and movements on you to elongate, stretch and free the fascia. All techniques are hands-on and performed directly on the skin. No creams or oils are used as this would not allow the therapist to detect any restriction of fascia; having assessed your personal condition, the therapist is able to assess the precise amount of pressure and traction in order to effectively release fascia. It will also be necessary to remove your clothes.

It is likely that you will be asked to move while the treatment takes place: possibly lie on the massage table, sit or even stand, depending on what your therapist needs to do in order to help gain release of the fascia and bring the body back into alignment and balance. If you are asked to move, it is so that you can provide resistance to the action of the therapist, and so as to increase the effect of the fascial stretching.

The gentle but firm stretching used in Myofascial Release Technique enhances a breakdown of restrictive tissue, and the softening and lengthening process which takes place helps to realign and restore balance to the body relieving pain and improving blood circulation. While undergoing treatment you may experience a gentle tug on the skin due to the stretching or an itching or tingling sensation. Regard this is a good sign, meaning more blood is getting into that particular area of the body to assist the healing process. The therapist may recommend some release work that you can carry out yourself when you get home.

To give you some idea of the process, this is how Australian expert in Myofascial Release Technique, Michael Stanborough, who has taught its theory and practice in institutes around the world, describes the method to his students:

  • Land on the surface of the body with the appropriate ‘tool’ (knuckles, or forearm etc).
  • Sink into the soft tissue.
  • Contact the first barrier/restricted layer.
  • Put in a ‘line of tension’.
  • Engage the fascia by taking up the slack in the tissue.
  • Finally, move or drag the fascia across the surface while staying in touch with the underlying layers.
  • Exit gracefully.

Stanborough makes it sounds like a moon-landing.

Benefits and Effects

Myofascial Release Technique has been found to be particularly effective for back pain and chronic pain, fibromyalgia, frozen shoulder, carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches and whiplash injuries.

As the fascia is released, so the body can self-correct, eliminate pain and restore the best possible optimum performance of movement. There appear to be many benefits associated with Mysofascial Release Technique:

Myofascial Release can decreases Pain: it is claimed that this technique can release the body’s natural painkillers, endorphins, by allowing the blood, lymph and nerve receptors to work efficiently so pain is relieved. Some find that this can reduce or remove the need for prescription analgesics.

It helps to strengthen the immune system. When fascia is restricted, the lymphatic flow is slowed down, which affects the immune system (the body’s first line of defence against infection and primary aid to healing).

Myofascial Release increases the circulatory flow of lymph and therefore hastens healing of injuries or infections. Tingling, pins and needles or numbness in the arms or legs generally indicate Nerve pain.

Myofascial Release Technique can work to relieve pressure which may be caused by fascial adhesions pressing on the nerves. Keeping a healthy circulatory system reduces stress on the heart and can prevent painful cramps, brings nutrients to the cells and takes away the waste; Myofascial Release Technique increases circulation and assists this process.

Along with other alternative therapies MFR promotes the philosophy that the mind and body must work together to be successful and maintain one’s health, that they are one and the same. The body remembers postural positions, actions and emotions without thought having to be engaged.

One of the most helpful images describing the treatment is the following from the website of the technique’s professional organisation Myofascial Release UK and Ireland:

“Fascia can be described like a 3D sweater, when the fascial network is traumatised it is pulled and twisted out of alignment rather like a pull in the sweater. Therefore, if the fascia has tightened creating bands of tension three dimensionally throughout the body resulting in symptoms distant to the injury then all the appropriate localised treatments will produce limited or temporary results.”

So, Myofascial Release treatment helps to put your body-sweater back into shape.

Fascinating Facts about Myofascial Release

  • Considering it is a relatively recent therapy, there is several versions of who should be credited with the invention of Mysofascial Release Therapy:
    – Some say that the method grew out of the school of osteopathy in the 1920s by a practitioner called William Neider which at that time was called the ‘fascial twist’.
    – German physiotherapist Elizabeth Dicke developed Connective Tissue Massage (Bindegewebsmassage) in the 1920s, which involved superficial stretching of the myofascia.
    – Dr. Janet G. Travell first used the term ‘myofascial’ in medical literature, the in the 1940s referring to musculoskeletal pain syndromes and ‘trigger points’. In 1976 Dr. Travell began using the term “Myofascial Trigger Point” and in 1983 published the reference “Myofascial Pain & Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual”. There is no evidence she actually used what is now termed “myofascial release”.
    – According to Robert C. Ward, myofascial release originated from the concept by Andrew Taylor Still, the founder of osteopathic medicine in the late 19th century. The concepts and techniques were subsequently developed by his successors.
  • Dr Ida Rolf’s contribution came through her holistic approach to structural integration in the 1950s. Dr Rolf’s maxim was “Put the tissue where it should be and ask for movement.” She found that by moving the body and manipulating soft tissue and by stretching skin in certain patterns, she could improve the structure posture of a patient’s body and return the myofascial system to its normal pattern. She developed a holistic system of soft tissue manipulation and movement education based on yoga, osteopathic manipulation.
  • Practitioners use knuckles, elbows, or other tools to slowly stretch the restricted fascia by applying a few varying degrees of strength to release the restrictions that have accumulated in the complex web of fascia below the surface of the skin. The practitioner works gradually through the layers of the fascia until the deep tissues are reached.
  • Myofascial Release practitioner Paul Svacina – uses the analogy of pulling apart a chicken carcass, or pulling a prawn out of its shell , to describe the delicate technique of MRT. When pulled slowly with the correct technique, the layers peel apart intact, (as do the layers of fascia), but pulled too fast, its shreds.
  • Accidents, injures, operations and infections can create ‘restrictions’ in fascia that produce tensile pressures of around 2000lb per square inch. And yet these pressures do not show up on the conventional tests of today: neither x-rays, CAT scans, myelograms, electromyography nor MRI’s. So the physical and emotional pain due to fascial trauma may go undiagnosed and untreated.
  • There is even more to learn about the Liquid Crystalline Matrix, we know as ‘Fascia’, says world expert John F. Barnes. ‘We will explore an exciting new paradigm of the Myofascial system that is emerging and the important concepts of piezoelectricity, fibre optics, mechanotransduction, fluid dynamics, quantum physics, fractal geometry, complexity and chaos theory, and cellular consciousness.’
  • It is claimed that the therapist will be able to find the sore or sensitive spots, called Myofascial Trigger Points, which even the patient is unable to locate – just by feel. Sometimes patients cannot identify them exactly because they have become accustomed to them. The size and tenderness of these sore spot will reduce with treatment.
  • Tom Myers, inventor of the concept of “Anatomy Trains”, says: “I developed the Anatomy Trains during the 1990’s as a game for students to play when I was teaching Fascial Anatomy at the Rolf Institute . The Anatomy Trains schema offered a logical lens through which to view Ida Rolf’s ten-session Structural Integration recipe… Thus, Kinesis Myofascial Integration (KMI) was born.”

Professional Organisations

Myofascial Release UK and Ireland

This organisation offers training in Integrated Myofascial Therapy workshops (iMFR) levels 1 – 3, plus an unwinding and advanced course. Workshops are accredited with Federation of Holistic Therapy (FHT) and Complementary Therapy Association. MFR UK hold advanced workshop for healthcare professionals and therapists qualified and affiliated to organisations such as Chartered Society of Physiotherapists, Association of Physical and Natural Therapists; once they have passed level 3 of iMFR, they can use and promote MFR under the banner of Integrated Myofascial Therapy (iMFR)
There are strict guidelines for therapists using of the iMFR logo and MFR UK holds a register of graduates and MFR practitioners throughout the UK.

The John Barnes Myofascial Release Approach

The website explains that the originator of this approach, Physical Therapist John F. Barnes who is based in America, based in the USA (two centres – one in Pennsylvania and one in Arizona), is an internationally recognized physical therapist, author and the leading authority on Myofascial Release. Throughout his 50 years of experience, he has developed this innovative and highly effective whole body approach. He has trained over 75,000 physicians and and healthcare professionals throughout the world.

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