Lungs, heart, spleen, kidneys.
Like any good student, you probably memorized all your vital organs in grade school.
But you probably never heard about a little-known but enormously important organ whose relatively recent discovery is changing the way scientists and practitioners view pain and restrictions in your body.
That special organ is your body’s fascia, and unlike the other isolated organs you learned about in grade school, your fascia surrounds, penetrates, and connects every structure of your body from head to toe. (There is still some debate as to whether fascia is indeed an organ or a tissue type.)
Fascia: The Fibrous Web of Interconnected Tissue That’s Challenging Modern Medicine
To understand why myofascial release is so helpful to the body, it’s important to first understand what exactly your fascia is. An interconnected, tightly wrapped tissue around all the muscles of the body, you could think of it as a sweater or saran wrap for your muscles. Fascia not only covers but also weaves between and penetrates your muscles, and rather than covering each muscle individually, it is one giant interconnected piece of tissue from head to toe without any gaps.
Because your fascia innervates and affects movement, pain, sensation, and mobility at every level of your body, being able to affect the health of your fascia is a logical way to improve musculoskeletal health, heal tissue, and relieve pain.
Though it is still being researched in more depth, scientist’s current theory is that trauma, injury, repetitive overuse, and surgery in certain areas create damaging myofascial restrictions, which in some cases “can produce tensile pressures of approximately 2,000 pounds per square inch on pain sensitive structures that do not show up in many of the standard tests (x-rays, myelograms, CAT scans, electromyography, etc.)”
In other words, restrictions in your fascia lead to real, deeply felt pain throughout the body. This pain can be either systemic or localized, and eventually decreases your range of motion and functionality of those particular joints.
An Explanation of Myofascial Release Therapy
This is where myofascial release treatment comes in. The name “myofascial” is made up of the root myo (meaning muscles), and fascia which you now know is the sheath that connects all of the muscles of the body to one another.
A form of manual therapy practiced in different ways by massage therapists, physical therapists, chiropractors, and osteopaths, myofascial release uses gentle, sustained pressure on the myofascial connection points throughout the body to improve mobility and function of all of the body’s joints and muscles. Myofascial release is performed directly on the skin by the therapist, using their hands, arms, and elbows, typically without any oil or cream for lubrication.
Because the theory is that myofascial pain is different from other types of pain due to originating at particular “trigger points” of myofascial restriction in the body, myofascial release aims to improve muscle and joint health by targeting those connection points with the fascia. During a treatment, myofascial therapists are typically looking for “trigger points,” myofascial areas that feel stiff and inelastic, which are thought to cause muscle and movement restriction and ultimately lead to pain through the body.
Myofascial Release Treats Variety of Conditions
Myofascial release (MFR) is used to treat a variety of orthopedic conditions with positive results. For everything from neck pain to fibromyalgia, myofascial work may provide some relief.
In cases of mechanical neck pain, for example, MFR can not only reduce pain but also improve pain thresholds. In one randomized trial, subjects with chronic neck pain who received MFR regularly saw improvements in their neck pain as well as their ability to manage it.
Chronic pain conditions involving central sensitization, such as fibromyalgia, can be difficult for manual therapists to treat due to the inability of the client to actually localize the pain. Myofascial release can be effective for addressing these systemic pain conditions, according to research. One study divided fibromyalgia patients into groups receiving either Swedish massage or MFR, and it found that while overall neuromuscular pain was improved by either treatment, “the MFR group reported consistent pain reductions in the neck and upper back regions.”
General low back pain is one of the complaints massage therapists hear from clients most frequently, and it’s another condition that can be improved with Myofascial release. In a study of the effects of MFR of patients with chronic low back pain, those receiving the MFR therapy showed a significant improvement not only in their reported pain but as their level of disability from their condition.
MFR may even be helpful for patients with scoliosis as well. In one case study, an adult patient received MFR treatments twice a week for 6 weeks, and at the end of the study improvements were reported in the patient’s “pain levels, trunk rotation, posture, quality of life, and pulmonary function.”
Myofascial release can be helpful for treating a wide variety of common musculoskeletal conditions. With our rapidly expanding understanding of the body’s fascial system, the effectiveness of MFR techniques will likely continue improving over time.
If you’re interested in receiving some myofascial release bodywork, head over to our website, find a practitioner who offers the treatment that you’re interested in, and book your first session today!