Common Questions about Myofascial Release

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 will “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, and 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 yourself pain-free.

How does myofascial release feel?

The amount of pressure applied to the body is applied gently at first and then may become more deep as the patient’s body softens, and the tissue elongates. Stretching and isolated muscle contraction may also be used to improve muscle balance.  Tequniques are used to reduce the body’s “guarding patterns” after it has become injured.  The patient may feel warmth where the therapist’s hands are located or may feel warmth in another location.   This is a sign that the tissue is releasing its tightness. The patient is encouraged to relax, clear their thoughts, and turn an inward focus on their body.  Where does it feel tight or painful?  Visualize sending increased blood flow to that area.  This tequnique stimulates the internal parts of the brain that are involved in the body’s natural healing ability.  Research has shown that the outer part of the brain (neocortex) , which is the reasoning part of the brain, and asks “why” is not involved in the healing process.

1 reply
  1. Sue.Bransky says:

    Believe me, before I was injured, I was a skeptic, too. Medical education 19 years ago about fascia included scraping off the tough, sinewy covering over the muscles so we could see the muscle underneath. Cadaver fascia is not like living fascia. We were taught that fascia covered muscle and didn’t have much of a function. About 3 years ago, a French hand surgeon and his research team used mini cameras in live fascia and electron microscopes along with computer-generated 3D technology to develop the first research-based model of fascia. It’s a lot more complex than we ever thought. Fascia also supports and separates the internal organs. The outer layer of the fascia is like a “loofa sponge” and consists of microtubules which transport liquid necessary for healing and keeping the fascia healthy. When the body is injured, these microtubules are damaged and the underlying elastocollagenous layer becomes firm and leathery. If you’ve ever had chronic “knots” in your muscles, this is damaged fascia. My experience with some massage therapists is that my “chronic knots” feel better for awhile after a massage, but they always return/never went away. If one pulls on a sweater, the yarns of the sweater deform towards the force. As the force is released, the sweater returns to its original shape. This is similar to the outer elastic layer of the fascia. It lengthens and deforms towards the force while it is applied, but eventually returns to its previous length. More lasting elongation of the fascaia is achieved by applying a sustained force that’s gentle and not forceful for at least 3-5 minutes to affect the underlying elastocollagenous layer. As I perform myofascial release, I frequently feel the restricted area under my hands become warm and then the tissue “melts like butter” and the tissue moves much more freely.

    I have been a physical therapist for 19 years, and I would venture to state that 99% of the patients that I treat for pain have a muscle imbalance in the area of their symptoms. Usually one side is more tight than the other. A tight muscle is actually a weaker muscle, too. Physical therapists assess range of motion and strength. Many are now performing functional testing which illuminates weak functional positions, muscle weakness/tightness while performing specific tasks. When the assymetries in flexibility, strength, and bony alignment are corrected, the pain subsides. Assymetries predispose one to injury. This has been proven with athletes and functional testing.

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