Myofascial Release – Definition, Techniques & Tools

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Do you live with or experience chronic pain, and/or fibromyalgia? Are you looking for a way to alleviate symptoms from one or more of these conditions? One option you have is myofascial release. In this article, we will learn about myofascial release is, its benefits, side effects, how it is also used as a sport medicine tool, and what to expect during myofascial release. Let’s get started . . .

What is Myofascial Release? 

Myofascial release (MFR) or myofascial release therapy is a family of bodywork or physical therapy techniques used to treat pain in the musculoskeletal system of the body and relieve stress and tension.

Myofascial Release vs. Massage 

The fascia, which covers the entire musculoskeletal structure of the body and all the internal organs, can have a significant impact on your health and wellness. 

Myofascial release is similar in some ways to other manual manipulation (hands-on) approaches like massage. However, there are some differences. Specifically, myofascial release is meant to work with the fascia, a layer of connective tissues underneath the skin that cover the organs and musculoskeletal structure of the body. 

How does Myofascial Release Work?

During a myofascial release session, the therapist or other practitioner uses their hands to identify and work with tension in the fascia. MFR therapists are trained to detect subtle differences in the fascia that indicate tension. The patient’s body also plays an important role, as the therapist adjusts what they do based on the way the patient’s body responds to treatment.

During a myofascial release session, the therapist typically applies pressure to the patient’s skin in opposing directions to help stretch out the tension in the fascia. The amount of pressure can range from gentle to more intense. This can help the fascia to relax as a whole, and can also affect distinct knots of tightness that form in the fascia, which are known as trigger points.

Wait, trigger points? Is that connected to trigger point therapy? Yes and no.  Here is why . . . 

Myofascial Release VS. Trigger Point Therapy 

When the fascia becomes tense, dense knots of tissue called trigger points can form. This typically results in pain that radiates outward from the trigger point and nearby tissues. Both myofascial release and trigger point therapy can affect trigger points.
Myofascial release and trigger point therapy can both help to relieve musculoskeletal pain, and many health practitioners use both techniques.

Myofascial release and trigger point therapy are both bodywork techniques that work with the fascia. They are similar (indeed, trigger point therapy is sometimes referred to as a type of myofascial release), but have some specific differences. It is these differences that often have people often wondering: What’s the difference between myofascial release and trigger point therapy? Check out the following comparison. . . 

Self-Myofascial Release

Self-myofascial release is a practice that involves using foam rollers, medicine balls or other devices to relieve tension in the fascia. The approach has become increasingly popular in recent years. As the name implies, self-myofascial release can be done alone or at home, as well as under the guidance of a professional.

People often ask: What does self-myofascial release do for your muscles? Self-myofascial release can be a useful way to work with pain, relieve muscle tension, improve coordination and range of motion, and otherwise support your body. It is best to have a qualified instructor such as a physical therapist, rehabilitation professional or sports medicine professional show you how to perform the technique before trying it on your own. 

6 Type of Practitioners to See for Myofascial Release 

Are you wondering who you should go see if you want to receive myofascial release treatment? There are six different types of practitioners that may provide myofascial release therapy: 

    1.     Massage therapists


    2.     Physical therapists


    3.    Occupational therapists


    4.    Orthopedic doctors


    5.    Sports medicine professionals


    6.    Osteopathic physicians 


There are different approaches to myofascial release—not all professionals define or practice it exactly the same way. However, all share the common goal of reducing stress in the fascia.

2 Types of Myofascial Release

Myofascial release is typically categorized as either passive or active. Here is information on these two types and approaches to myofascial release: 

    1.    Passive myofascial release: The passive form of myofascial release is where the therapist’s movements are guided by the patient’s body—the therapist is trained to find and identify tension in the patient’s fascia and observe how the patient’s body responds to treatment. This informs the therapist’s course of action, affecting where they stretch the patient’s fascia, how much pressure they apply, and for how long.


    2.    Active myofascial release: The active form of myofascial release involves the patient directed to contract and relax certain muscles under the guidance of the therapist. 

A session may combine passive and active myofascial release techniques, or only use one approach.

2 Ways Myofascial Release Helps you Feel Better

Myofascial release therapy works to help your body in two main ways: 

    1.    Body pain: When the fascia becomes strained, this puts stress on the musculoskeletal system, which can lead to pain in the back, neck, and other areas of the body, as well as headaches and other health problems. 


    2.    Trauma: Some doctors also believe that trauma and painful emotions are stored in the fascia in the form of tension and knotting. 


Wondering why this is true? 

By helping to relax and reduce stress in the fascia, myofascial release can affect the amount of strain on the musculoskeletal system, and on the organs covered by the fascia. In other words, it can help reduce the amount pressure your body is experiencing. This can have significant health benefits, including pain relief.

5 Areas Myofascial Release can Provide Benefits 

Many people find themselves asking: What are the Benefits of Myofascial Release? Myofascial release can be a useful way to treat conditions that are related to chronic strain on the musculoskeletal system. There are five areas of benefits that can be experienced through myofascial release: 

    1.    Chronic Back and Other Orthopedic Pain


    2.    Fibromyalgia


    3.    Headaches


    4.    Myofascial Release for Sports injury Prevention 


    5.    Pelvic 


Want to know more detail of each of those five areas? 

1. Chronic Back and Other Orthopedic Pain and How Myofascial Release Therapy can Help 

Myofascial release can be an effective treatment for chronic orthopedic pain including:  

    •    Back


    •    Neck


    •    Joint


    •    Pelvic 


Like other bodywork techniques, it can relieve pressure and strain on the musculoskeletal system that may be causing pain. If you’re suffering from chronic pain then myofascial release may be worth trying.

2. The Benefits of Myofascial Release Therapy on Fibromyalgia 

One of the more studied benefits of myofascial release is how the technique can benefit people with fibromyalgia. 

In one study published in the Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine Journal two groups of participants were used to research the impact of myofascial release therapy on the following symptoms associated with fibromyalgia: 

    1.    Pain


    2.    Anxiety


    3.    Poor quality of sleep

    4.    Depression

    5.    Overall quality of life

Treatment Group vs Placebo Group

The results are promising: Myofascial release can help improve a number of symptoms of fibromyalgia It was found that the group receiving myofascial treatment experienced reduction of pain and anxiety, depression, as well as improve quality of life and sleep. However, the effects wore off over time, suggesting that regular myofascial release treatment is vital to the continuation of the benefits to be felt. 

3. Myofascial Release Therapy and Headaches

Some headaches are the result of tension or strain on the body. Myofascial release can be a useful method for treating tension-related headaches. A session can help relieve the strain causing the headache, quickly improving your symptoms.

4. Myofascial Release for Sports Injury Prevention 

Myofascial release can be used preventatively in sports medicine. Myofascial release therapy can help reduce stress on the body and speed muscle recovery, which can help keep injuries related to chronic strain or imbalance from happening in the first place. It can also be useful for treating conditions like: 

    •    Plantar fasciitis


    •    Pelvic misalignment


    •    Repetitive strain injuries


5. How Myofascial Release Can be Beneficial for Pelvic Health Issues 

Both men and women experience pelvic issues, such as tailbone pain, pain with sex, bladder problems, constipation, vaginismus, and chronic nonbacterial prostatitis. Fascial tension in the abdomen and pelvic cavity can create an undue strain around the bowel, bladder and reproductive organs. MFR therapists specializing in pelvic health work, which includes: 

    •    External and intra-vaginal


    •    Rectal work

In essence, myofascial release therapy can be very beneficial in normalizing function to this area of the body. 

Side Effects of Myofascial Release Therapy

People can sometimes experience soreness or therapeutic pain during a session, but that usually fades afterward. 

If you have any significant health conditions, experts recommend talking with your doctor and sharing your health history with your myofascial release therapist before beginning treatment.

This is because even though myofascial release therapy is a healing approach that typically has no side effects —myofascial release may conflict with certain health conditions. 

Along with similar techniques like massage, myofascial release may not be appropriate for people with: 

    •    Sensitive or wounded skin


    •    Brittle or broken bones


    •    Blood clots 


Is Myofascial Release Therapy the Right Choice for you? 

If you are an athlete or work out regularly myofascial release therapy may be good preventative measure to consider to reduce your risk of a sports related injury.

If you live with back pain, pelvic health challenges, frequent headaches, anxiety, depression, or fibromyalgia you may also find seeking myofascial release therapy to your benefit. 

However if you have experienced or are prone to blood clots, broken bones, or sensitive skin — you may choose to look into other treatment options for the symptoms you are experiencing. 

Want to get started and experience Myofascial release treatment for yourself? One of our practitioners in the DaoCloud network can be a great resource; Reach out and visit our list of practitioners in your area at DaoCloud to find a practitioner who specializes in myofascial release therapy. 

The following expert reviewed and contributed to this article:

Ann Udofia, PT, DPT, Doctor of Physical Therapy

Find a Myofascial Release Practitioner near you

There are hundreds of talented Myofascial Release Practitioners on DaoCloud:

Atlanta, GA • Austin, TX • Baltimore, MD • Boston, MA • Boulder, CO • Buffalo, NY • Charleston, SC • Charlotte, NC • Chicago, IL • Cincinatti, OH • Cleveland, OH • Columbus, OH • Dallas, TX • Denver, CO • Detroit, MI • Houston, TX • Indianapolis, IN • Kansas City, MO • Las Vegas, NV • Los Angeles, CA • Miami, FL • Minneapolis, MN • New York, NY • Orlando, FL • Philadelphia, PA • Phoenix, AZ • Pittsburg, PA • Portland, OR • Raleigh, NC • Salt Lake City, UT • San Antonio, TX • San Diego, CA • San Francisco, CA • San Jose, CA • Seattle, WA • St. Louis, MO • Tampa, FL • Tucson, AZ • Washington, DC

References: 

Benefits of Massage-Myofascial Release Therapy on Pain ... (n.d.). Retrieved December 3, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3018656/