What is Myofascial Release? How would I know that I need it? How can this form of manual therapy help me?
Fascia is the connective tissue that spreads throughout the body in a three-dimensional web, from head to toe, without interruption. Fascia surrounds all of the soft tissue and all of the bones of the body.
Fascia, unlike muscles, tendons, and ligaments, does not simply connect one bone to another or cross over joints to allow them to move and maintain static positions; rather, it's one continuous structure that connects each part of the body to every other part of the body, like the yarn in a sweater. It provides a sliding and gliding environment for muscles, transmits movement from muscles to bones, and provides a supportive and movable wrapping for nerves and blood vessels as they pass through and between muscles. Fascia also suspends organs in their proper place.
In its normal, healthy state, fascia is relaxed and wavy; it has the ability to stretch and move without restriction. When we experience injury, inflammation, or scarring, whether from a trauma, a strain, a fall, a bump to the head, whiplash, surgery, repetitive stress injuries, or even the cumulative effects of habitual poor posture, fascia becomes tight, restricted, and a source of tension to the rest of the body. Because fascia surrounds everything in the body, tightness anywhere in this structure can cause muscle pain, nerve pain, joint pain, decreased circulation, loss of mobility, and loss of function.
When fascia becomes tight, normal soft tissue treatment, such as massage, will not help it to stretch out and become mobile again. Massage, or other kinds of soft tissue mobilization, helps localized tender or tight areas in muscles relax, decreases tension and spasm, improves blood flow, and decreases pain. The kneading and deep pressure of massage can help work out knots or reduce trigger points in the muscles, and if those are the only problems with the soft tissue, resolve the pain. However, often the effects of massage are only temporary, because it does not effectively address restrictions in the fascial tissues.
Myofascial Release ("myo" is Greek for "muscle") is a type of hands-on therapy that provides gentle, sustained pressure into myofascial restrictions to relieve pain and restore mobility. In myofascial release, affected fascia is slowly stretched by the therapist's hands until a barrier or restriction is reached, and then a light pressure is maintained for typically three to five minutes, until the barrier releases. As the restriction releases, the therapist feels motion and softening of the tissue.
Common problems treated effectively with myofascial release include chronic pain, back pain, neck pain, headaches, TMJ problems, fibromyalgia, scoliosis, head trauma, movement dysfunction and neurologic dysfunction. It is gentle enough for pediatrics and fragile geriatrics, but can also be deep and effective for sports injuries.
In my experience, when dealing with more chronic, complicated, or widespread problems, the addition of myofascial release to other forms of soft tissue mobilization, joint mobilization, exercise, and education has been the difference between learning to live with a problem and recovering from the problem.