Myofascial Release Therapy
What is myofascial release therapy?
Myofascial release therapy is a hands-on technique used to manage myofascial pain. “Myo” means muscle. “Fascial” refers to the connective tissue that covers and supports the muscles throughout your entire body. During myofascial release therapy, your therapist doesn’t focus specifically on your muscles. They focus on releasing tension in your fascial tissues.
What is fascia?
You can think of fascia like a spider web. The stringy tissue is densely woven throughout your muscles, bones, nerves, arteries, veins and organs. Your fascia is one continuous structure throughout your body. Each part of your body is connected to it in some way. That’s why if there’s a snag in the tissue in one part of your body, it can cause pain in another part of your body.
Normally, fascia is flexible and stretchy. But it’s strong. It provides structural support to your body and protects your muscles. Fascia is usually able to move without any restrictions. When your body experiences any kind of trauma, your fascia loses its flexibility. It becomes tightened and more rigid. The tightness can lead to pain and loss of motion, which can affect your quality of life.
Is myofascial release the same as trigger point therapy?
Yes. Myofascial release therapy is also called myofascial trigger point therapy. This is because myofascial pain originates in various trigger points in your body. These trigger points are stiff areas in your fascial tissue. They feel like small bumps, nodules or knots in your muscles.
Tightened trigger points can restrict your muscle and joint movement. You may have pain at the site of a trigger point or widespread pain throughout your body. Myofascial release therapy focuses on releasing the tension in these trigger points.
Who would benefit from myofascial release therapy?
Myofascial release therapy may help anyone who has tightness in their fascial tissues. Myofascial release therapy may benefit people who have experienced:
- Physical trauma: From incidences such as falls, car accidents or whiplash.
- Scarring: From conditions such as frozen shoulder, burns or surgery.
- Inflammation: From conditions such as bursitis, osteoarthritis or plantar fasciitis.
- Compressed nerves: From herniated disks or carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Repetitive stress injuries: From heavy lifting or poor posture.
What does myofascial release therapy treat?
Myofascial release therapy may be used to treat many different health conditions. These conditions include:
- Myofascial pain syndrome: Myofascial pain syndrome causes pain in your connective tissues.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome: Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition that causes pain, numbness and weakness in your hands and wrists.
- Low back pain: Low back pain is caused by strain to the muscles and tendons in your back. It causes a decrease in the motion and flexibility of your spine.
- Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder: TMJ occurs when the muscles around the joints of your jaw become inflamed.
- Fibromyalgia: Fibromyalgia is a long-term (chronic) illness that causes muscle and joint pain.
- Chronic migraines: Chronic migraines cause frequent throbbing headaches.
What happens during myofascial release therapy?
During your myofascial release therapy sessions, you’ll work with a healthcare provider trained in myofascial release therapy. Your provider may be a:
- Physical therapist.
- Occupational therapist.
- Massage therapist.
- Sports medicine specialist.
- Athletic trainer.
- Osteopathic physician.
Your sessions will take place in a private room at your provider’s office. Your provider will first locate the fascial tissues throughout your body that feel stiff and tight. These areas are commonly called trigger points or knots. Once they find the knots, they’ll apply gentle, constant pressure to these areas.
Your provider will use direct contact on your skin. They won’t use any oils or lotions. They need to be able to feel the tightness in your fascia. The pressure will be applied slowly in an attempt to lengthen your fascial tissues. Your provider will knead and stretch your fascial tissues repeatedly. When they feel the pressure and tension release, they’ll move on.
What happens after myofascial release therapy?
After your provider performs myofascial release therapy, you may feel sore in the areas they stretched. But the soreness should go away fairly quickly. You should feel a lot looser in those areas than you did before.
For the greatest benefit, you’ll need to see your provider consistently. They may recommend treatments every one to three days. Each session will last 15 to 50 minutes. Your provider may recommend returning for sessions for a few weeks or a few months. It will depend on the cause and severity of your condition.
Risks / Benefits
What are the benefits of myofascial release therapy?
Researchers haven’t studied the benefits of myofascial release therapy as much as other massage therapy methods. But myofascial release therapy has many potential benefits. These benefits may include:
- Pain management: Soreness may be reduced and your tissues may start to recover.
- Increased movement: The range of motion in your muscles and joints may improve.
- Improved circulation: Your blood and oxygen may move more efficiently throughout your body.
- Relaxation: Massage therapy has been shown to help your body relax and loosen knots.
- Stress management: Tension throughout your body may be released.
What are the risks or complications of myofascial release therapy?
Myofascial release therapy, like other methods of massage therapy, doesn’t have many risks. Rarely, myofascial release therapy can cause:
- Internal bleeding.
- Trouble moving your muscles.
- Short-term paralysis.
- Nerve damage.
If you have any of the following conditions, talk to your healthcare provider. They may suggest avoiding myofascial release therapy or trying a different kind of therapy.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is self‐myofascial release?
You can perform myofascial release on yourself at home. You can find videos online with basic myofascial release techniques. You’ll use a foam roller or roller massager to gently apply pressure to your fascial tissues. Some studies have shown using a foam roller for self-myofascial release has helped increase joint range of motion. You should ask your healthcare provider before trying any self-treatment.
What’s the difference between myofascial release therapy and fascial stretch therapy?
Fascial stretch therapy is another type of manual therapy that focuses on the fascial tissues. Fascial stretch therapists don’t apply pressure to certain areas of your body. Instead, they manually move part of your body (such as your arms or legs) to stretch your fascial tissues.
Where can I find a myofascial release therapist near me?
If you’re interested in myofascial release therapy, talk with your healthcare provider. Many osteopathic physicians are trained in myofascial release therapy. If your provider isn’t trained in the therapy, they may be able to refer you to a provider who is. Healthcare providers who perform myofascial release therapy include:
- Physical therapists.
- Occupational therapists.
- Licensed massage therapists.
- Sports medicine and/or athletic trainers.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
If you have pain in your myofascial tissues, ask your healthcare provider if myofascial release therapy could be right for you. While research hasn’t proven the technique is 100% beneficial, it may help reduce or eliminate your pain. Your healthcare provider may recommend a more traditional type of therapy. But it’s worth discussing all of your options with them.
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