What is this Myofascial Release thing I'm hearing about?

It is unfortunate that this approach to healing the whole body and not just masking symptoms is not more accepted by healthcare professionals limiting its potential to help people.  From my personal experiences with this approach along with the tremendous relief my clients have seen in just one session I truly believe this is a modality everyone should know about. Lets begin at the beginning... What is fascia?

Fascia is a tough connective tissue that spreads throughout the body in a three-dimensional fluid web from head to toe with no end and no beginning.  Imagine the white stringy stuff an orange has.  This web surrounds every aspect of your body, from a single cell, blood vessels, nerves, organs, muscle, bone.... everything.  This web, therefore, supports, protects, connects, and separates these structures.  When healthy, your fascia glides over these structures like an ice skater on ice, smooth and uninterrupted, but when restrictions are formed from trauma, poor posture, inflammation, surgery, etc. the fascia binds to the surrounding structures putting increased pressure on them causing pain or malfunction.  The pressure generated by restrictions can be as much as 2000lbs/sq.in.!!! 

So how do we get rid of these restrictions?  Many therapists go to the symptoms and forcefully break apart the restrictions giving the client temporary relief.  I say temporary for two reasons, 1) In the majority of cases the symptoms are not the problem but signs of the problem and treating only the symptoms may not affect the problem.  Thinking that the body is segmented (if the knee hurts treat the knee) is where most therapists get it wrong.  It's when you look at the body as a whole that you will find the cause.  Maybe the client with the knee problem has a rotated pelvis changing how her femur sits in the knee joint straining the ligaments and tendons around the joint.  You can relieve the structures around the knee (symptomatic pain) all you want but if you don't treat the rotated pelvis (cause of pain) her relief will be short lived.  2) "Force is all conquering but it's victories are short lived" Abraham Lincoln.  Anything done with force is always temporary.  Modalities like deep tissue, Rolfing, soft tissue mobilization do offer relief but how often do you say, "Oh, that massage was great!  She really dug my knots out" and a few days later your pain is back.  This is because these techniques are forcing the restriction to release.  I like to relate it to a rubber band.  You can force it taut and it will stay there as long as you hold it but let go and it snaps right back.  Maybe it's a little stretched out for a while but it always returns to its form.  Another reason these techniques are temporary are because they are not held long enough.  To get a full and natural release the tissue must be held for a minimum of 3-5 minutes at a comfortable end range for the client so that their body does not go into protection mode.  With relief only being temporary the next step usually ends up being surgery just layering another issue on top of the old never getting rid of the first.  

Don't get me wrong, I am not saying these techniques do not offer benefits.  I love receiving a massage for its stress relieving and relaxation benefits, and using all techniques in conjunction with each other will only provide the best well-rounded treatment for the client.

Myofascial Release(MFR) relieves the client's symptoms by getting to the root cause of the issue by treating the body as a whole unit and incorporating patience into the session.  Once a therapist determines where a fascial restriction is they will lay their hands on the restriction, press gently into the body then pull the tissue taut.  The therapist then holds there for no less than 3-5 minutes allowing the release to reach the collagenous barrier where long term change and healing begins.  This barrier cannot be forced to release which is what the other techniques attempted to do.  They do release the elastic/muscular barrier (which is why you still feel relief afterwards) but if you don't release the collagenous barrier as well the relief is only temporary.

Many cool things can occur during a fascial hold including but not limited to build up of heat, fluttering sensations, emotional releases, sensations(releases) elsewhere in the body other than where the therapist is holding, etc.  Most importantly an overwhelming sense of calm and lightness after the treatment.

I have been trained by John F Barnes and truly believe in this modality.  Stay tuned for further articles on all things holistic.  


Katie, LMT, RYT200, MFR1, SES, owner of ShaktiShiva