Myofascial Release and Pain Relief

Myofascial Release is a therapy aimed at releasing restrictions in the fascia. Fascia is the connective tissue that surrounds the muscles and muscle fibers. It is both superficial, running just below the skin, surrounding the entire muscle, as well as deep, surrounding each individual muscle fiber.

It is made up of three components, which give it a combination of elasticity and strength, as well as shock absorption. It helps support the muscles, as well as serving as a conduit for the nerves and blood vessels. Meaning, the nerves and blood vessels are located within this connective tissue.

As a result of injury, trauma, poor posture, and inflammation, the fascia can become bound up, placing too much pressure on the muscles, bones, nerves, and blood vessels. Pressure which can cause pain. Myofascial Release seeks to relieve this pain or tension by releasing restrictions in the fascia.

Because the fascia is 3-dimensional, located all throughout the body, a restriction in one area could cause a problem in another area. If one area of the body is restricted in its movement, then the muscles above or below that point, or on the other side may take up the slack – working harder than they were meant to.

I have worked on more than one person with one-sided hip or back pain that had as much or more tension on the other side. This is because the side that is now hurting has been compensating for lack of movement on the other side. And over time the muscles that were compensating became overused, creating additional pain or dysfunction.

The release takes form through a low-force, long-duration stretch. Very light pressure is used in combination with a stretch that lasts from 90 seconds to about 3 minutes or more. The theory is that this low-force, long-duration stretch will cause the restrictions to gradually unwind, restoring this connective tissue to its normal length.

So one of the advantages to this work is the lack of pain involved. Deep tissue massage and ART can be quite painful at times. With chronic injuries, some form of deep tissue work is usually done prior to this stretch, to help break down adhesions in the elastic fibers and/or release tension in the body’s nervous system.

The theory is that the restrictions are too strong to be broken up completely with the deep tissue work and need this prolonged stretch to fully change the fascia. One of the primary developers of this technique is physical therapist John Barnes, who has been working with this technique for more than 30 years.

I have used this technique with people in clinical settings and have used it elsewhere with good results. Using it with those suffering headaches, I have had very good success. As most headaches are a result of too much tension in the neck and shoulders, using it after massage to relax the muscles, usually gets the job done.

For those currently suffering a major headache, such as an 8 or 9 on a 1-10 pain scale, it might not work. For most others, the headache is gone or significantly reduced within 5-10 minutes. It also works on other areas of the body.

Used by some physical therapists and massage therapists, it also works well with a chiropractic adjustment. At one chiropractic clinic I worked at, I worked with a man whose neck was turned to one side and very stiff, with some uncontrolled shaking. He went to one regional hospital and a nationally known clinic, who both tried different things with little result.

The first time I worked on him, his neck felt like a brick, without the soft tissue feel that a normal person would have. By combining deep tissue work with myofascial release and the adjustments, he gradually made changes with his neck. This took some time and further exercise to get him functioning better. Not perfect, but definitely better than before.

So if you have a high pain tolerance and not much patience, you can try active release (ART) or go with myofascial release, which may take just a bit longer, but is also very effective. Myofascial release can be done with acute injuries (ones that have occurred recently) as well as with the elderly, by using less pressure. Active release is meant for chronic injuries.

It is not to be used with those with an aneurysm, acute rheumatoid arthritis, uncontrolled diabetes, open wounds, or broken bones.

It is meant to be used with exercise and other forms of therapy for optimal results. A very nice complement is joint mobility training.

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