How does myofascial release work and how do I keep my body healing? Do I need to be seen by a MFR therapist forever?
Myofascial release works by stretching/loosening the fascia that is tight or adhered. It also stimulates the body’s natural healing process. Tight fascia can exert up to 2000# of pressure/square inch and compresses whatever is underneath it. It may compress a nerve, blood vessel, or muscle. A chiropractic adjustment or a traditional relaxation massage may only provide temporary relief, because it doesn’t address the underlying collagenous layer of the fascia. So if there’s an imbalance around the vertebrae, the vertebra may “slip back out” again. One has to use a sustained pressure that’s not “forceful” for 3-5 minutes and some gentle “unwinding” (like stretching) of the area in order for it to relax. Usually my patients notice a definite improvement in 1-3 sessions. I also instruct them how to incorporate relaxation, breathing, self-stretches, and how to use a foam roll for self-help treatment. I have found personally that once an area is injured, it tends to flare up periodically, and the fascia will have a tendency to re-tighten along the original lines of injury. Doing self-treatment and stretching/strengthening the area help tremendously, but it may be an on-going process to keep oneself pain-free.
How does John Barnes approach to myofascial release feel?
This technique is not like what I learned in physical therapy school, which was a very firm pressure applied to a trigger point, or a firm transverse pressure across a tendon. It is best to experience the touch from a skilled practitioner, as it is difficult to describe. The pressure is gentle initially, and then may become deeper as the body softens layer by layer. Sometimes the patient experiences a warmth where the therapists hands are, or a warmth in another location. This is a good sign and signifies that the tissue is releasing its tightness. Sometimes a gentle compression and/or stretch are combined with the technique to further elongate the tissue. Other techniques are used to decrease the” guarding patterns” that occur after injury. The main difference between this technique and others is that the pressure is never forced, thus the body does not view it as a threat and guards (tightens) against it. Instead, the body softens and relaxes.
In order to enhance the body’s ability to heal, I encourage my patients to relax, clear their minds of thoughts, and turn an inward focus to their body. Where does it feel tight or painful? Visualize sending increased blood flow to that area. This activates the deeper parts of the brain that are involved in the body’s ability to heal itself. Research has shown that the outer part of the brain (neocortex) which is involved in reasoning and asks “why” is not involved in the healing process.
Sometimes the body does need specific mobilization techniques, soft tissue mobilization, and isolated muscle contraction/relaxation. I utilize these techniques as well. Modalities such as ultrasound and electric stimulation may also enhance healing by improving circulation, and I use them with acute injuries. Craniosacral therapy techniques may also be utilized. These techniques address balancing the craniosacral rhythm which is a rhythmic flow of the cerebrospinal fluid from the brain to the sacrum. The pressure is very gentle, and the technique is very relaxing.
Our bodies do have self-correcting and self-healing capacities. They crave balance to function optimally. Tightness in the fascia creates imbalances and leads to injury and pain. All of these techniques help decrease the tightness of the fascia and restores balance and enhances healing.
All physical therapy patients are also instructed in a customized exercise program to address muscle imbalances, improve core strength, and extremity strength, and flexibility. It is very important to continue these exercises in order to obtain long-term improvement and prevent the tissues from re-tightening.