Myofascial release offers whole body healing

massage
Athletes receive massage after completing Ironman UK on July 20, 2014 in Bolton, England.

Myofascial release is taught in medical education programs as an effective hands-on approach for many pain syndromes, including those related to: sports injuries, childhood/aging disorders, traumatic and surgical scarring, acute and chronic pain, head and birth injuries, strokes, scoliosis, menstrual and pelvic pain and dysfunction, headaches, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and jaw dysfunction. In my opinion, whole body healing is not possible without myofascial release.

There has been a media buzz in the past several years about "instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization" to address myofascial restrictions. Professionals perform this soft tissue mobilization using specific metal tools (Graston/HawkGrips) to break down scar tissue and fascial restrictions that are the cause of numerous pain syndromes. While the use of these special instruments is newer, the manual therapy treatment approach to restricted tissue is not.

The hands-on techniques for myofascial release are comprised of various ways to apply sustained soft or deep pressure into myofascial restrictions (i.e. muscle knots) to eliminate pain and restore motion. This may include deep pressure techniques as well as softer, superficial applications, some sustained and some with long strokes. The theory of myofascial release requires an understanding of the fascial system (or connective tissue). 

Fascia is a specialized system of the body that has an appearance similar to a spider's web or a sweater.  Fascia is very densely woven, covering and penetrating every muscle, bone, nerve, artery and vein as well as all of our internal organs including the heart, lungs, brain and spinal cord. Interestingly, the fascial system is one continuous structure that exists from head to foot without interruption. Each part of the entire body is connected to every other part by the fascia, like the yarn in a sweater. You might gain a better appreciation for what this looks like if you think about the white, stringy fibers that you see when you cut into raw chicken.

In the normal healthy state, the fascia is relaxed and wavy in configuration. It has the ability to stretch and move without restriction. When we experience physical trauma, scarring, or inflammation, however, the fascia loses its pliability. It becomes tight, restricted, dehydrated and a source of tension to the rest of the body. Trauma, such as a fall, whiplash, surgery or just habitual poor posture over time and repetitive stress injuries has cumulative effects. The changes made in the fascial system influence the functioning of our entire body. The fascia can exert excessive pressure, producing pain or restriction of motion. It affects our flexibility and can change our body's ability to withstand stress and strain.

Nearly every single patient I treat has some degree of myofascial restriction; manually releasing these restrictions is critical for full recovery. The myofascial release theory explains why pain can be present in multiple regions simultaneously and how dysfunction of one body part is interrelated to dysfunction of another. It is not uncommon in my practice to treat the symptom of foot pain, for example, by also releasing muscles in the hips or low back.

There are commonly distinct patterns of pain and imbalances that are present in many people. For example, neck pain and elevated shoulder on the opposite side of your dominant hand.  Check yourself out in a mirror; if one side is higher, you likely have some myofascial restriction contributions to this asymmetry.  In my opinion it is the missing link in many people’s care.  


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