Myofascial (my-o-FASH-e-ul) release is a manual therapy technique often used in massage. The technique focuses on pain believed to arise from myofascial tissues — the tough membranes that wrap, connect and support your muscles.
Theoretically, myofascial pain differs from other types of pain because it originates in "trigger points," which are related to stiff, anchored areas within the myofascial tissue. The pain that a trigger point causes is often difficult to localize, though.
During myofascial release therapy, the therapist locates myofascial areas that feel stiff and fixed instead of elastic and movable under light manual pressure. These areas, though not always near what feels like the source of pain, are thought to restrict muscle and joint movements, which contributes to widespread muscle pain.
The focused manual pressure and stretching used in myofascial release therapy loosen up restricted movement, leading indirectly to reduced pain.
Many studies have found that massage, chiropractic manipulation and similar manual therapies work as well as other treatments for back pain. Few studies, however, have tested myofascial release therapy specifically, partly because the exact elements of myofascial release therapy vary from therapist to therapist.
Myofascial release (MFR) therapy focuses on releasing muscular shortness and tightness. There are a number of conditions and symptoms that myofascial release therapy addresses.
Many patients seek myofascial treatment after losing flexibility or function following an injury or if experiencing ongoing back, shoulder, hip, or virtually pain in any area containing soft tissue.
Other conditions treated by myofascial release therapy include Temporo-Mandibular Joint (TMJ) disorder, carpal tunnel syndrome, or possibly fibromyalgia or migraine headaches. Patient symptoms usually include:
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 myofascial therapy is to stretch and loosen the fascia so that it and other contiguous structures can move more freely, and the patient's motion is restored. For this reason, myofascial therapy is sometimes referred to as 'myofascial release' therapy. It may also be referred to as 'myofascial trigger point therapy' by others.
Therapy sessions follow a pattern similar to physical therapy for post-operative rehabilitation. An initial appointment will be devoted to locating the areas of the fascia that appear to be restricted, and measuring the level of loss of motion or loss of symmetry in the body. Subsequent treatment sessions may:
The specific releases to different parts of the body vary, but generally include gentle application of pressure or sustained low load stretch to the affected area. Progress is gauged by the level of increased motion or function experienced, and/or decrease in pain felt by the patient.
Myofascial therapy can also enhance or assist other treatments to increase their effectiveness such as acupuncture, manipulation, physical therapy, or occupational therapy. Myofascial release therapy can also improve skeletal and muscular alignment prior to a surgery, or help athletes achieve better alignment prior to sports competitions
By targeting specific areas of the fascial system, myofascial therapy can help prepare patients for more aggressive forms of strengthening, or provide pain relief for patients with restricted flexibility and movement, thus allowing patients to return to normal movement and greater function.
When done regularly, you can:
Myofascial release isn’t the kind of thing that you can do casually. We emphasize if you want the results to last, you have to do it every day.
“I do something every day whether I have pain or not. I scan every single joint of my body in as little as five minutes. And if I find that I have a couple of areas that are problematic, that’s what I focus on for that particular day.”
You might get started at home and think that you’re not really making a difference, but Dr. Nishita stresses that it’s important to keep your routine going.
“My biggest recommendation is to be consistent, even if it’s only a couple of minutes a day. It will make a drastic difference in the long term.”
In order to ease tightness or pain, you’re going to have to find the source. Dr. Nishita recommends finding spots that are very tender and staying there for as long as it takes for those spots to release or loosen up. That time could be anywhere from two to five minutes.
“People will just jump on top of a foam roller, roll around for a couple of seconds and think they’ve gotten everything. But it really takes time and intention. So, when you find a place that has some tension or tightness, or it feels like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s the spot,’ stay there. You might have found the epicenter. And you might discover that the other spots around it will actually release or ease up after you’ve addressed the main problem.”
Myofascial release is not a competitive sport. You have nothing to prove to anyone and it isn’t about how much pain you can stand before you pass out. Instead of going all-in with the strongest tool you can find, start with something like a tennis ball and use it to gently roll out your muscles or to apply pressure to tight spots. If you don’t feel like the pressure is enough, try using a lacrosse ball. You can experiment and adjust accordingly. Whatever you do, don’t burn your money on expensive massage gadgets.
If you feel sharp, shooting pain that doesn’t ease up while doing myofascial release at home, stop. At that point, contact a professional.
You’ll also want to avoid doing it if you’re on blood thinners or have the following:
If you sense something is wrong or your pain isn’t getting any better,talk to a healthcare provider.
“You have to trust your intuition. For example, if it’s a chronic shoulder injury and you’ve tried a couple of things and nothing’s improved, you need to seek out a professional.”