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What is Myofascial Release

Fascial restrictions can cause joint compression and misalignment

Overview

Myofascial release is so much more than just another therapy modality. It is a path to authentic healing. The concept of interconnectedness is key. Not only the interconnectedness of the physical body via the fascial system, but the interconnectedness of the mind and body as well. Clues from a patient’s history, visual observation of posture, and hands-on assessment provide the framework for finding fascial restrictions. Actual treatment consists of manual, hands-on techniques such as traction, compression, and three-dimensional stretching of the tissue. The result is permanent, structural change.

How MFR is Different from Traditional PT

Symptoms such as pain are regarded as the body’s attempt to alert us to a problem. MFR therapy does not attempt to mollify the symptoms with external modalities such as ultrasound, electrical stimulation, heat and cold. These treatments provide temporary relief at best, and at worst distract us from finding the root of the problem. Also unlike traditional physical therapy, there is not much emphasis on strengthening the body. MFR sees most pain syndromes, postural abnormalities, and restricted motion as a result of tightness, not weakness.

Description of the fascial system

In order to understand the theory of the MFR approach and how it works, we need to become familiar with the fascial system. Only then can we fully appreciate the role of fascia in the healing process. Simply put, fascia is connective tissue. It is a three dimensional, continuous web that surrounds and envelops all parts of the body. It provides stability and support while allowing for gliding and flexibility with movement. Fascia suspends organs, gives muscles shape, provides protective sheaths for nerves and blood vessels, and encases the brain and spinal cord in fluid. Furthermore, it permeates throughout these structures down to the cellular level. The very walls of our cells are actually composed of fascia. Since fascia is a continuous structure, this means that every cell is connected to every other cell from head to toe!

Origin of Fascial Restrictions

The things most people experience as a ‘normal’ part of life can cause fascial restrictions. These include things like falls, car accidents, surgical scars or adhesions, childbirth (our own and that of our children), infections and prolonged postures. Chronic stress, tension, and emotional trauma can also lead to physical tissue restrictions in the body. Even though we may appear to heal from individual incidents, underlying fascial tightness or restriction can accumulate over time. These restrictions build up and overlap in a unique, individual pattern depending on our life experiences. Symptoms may appear seemingly out of nowhere that have origins in past injuries.

How fascial restrictions result in symptoms

Fascia in its normal, healthy state is stretchy and flexible while restricted fascia is compressed, stiff, and tight. Because fascia is contiguous with every part of our body, restrictions can have various and far reaching effects. Restrictions may be present in areas of the body that seem unrelated to the current symptoms. The most obvious and common symptom is pain. Other symptoms may accompany pain, depending on the specific structures involved. For example, numbness and tingling may occur with involvement of nerves. Restricted range of motion, decreased flexibility, and postural changes occur with restrictions pulling on muscles and bones. Circulation of blood or lymph is compromised if these vessels are compressed. Headaches/migraines occur when there is tension in the fascia that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. Fascial restrictions can also effect the functioning of organs. For example, restrictions or adhesions around the bladder can affect proper expansion/contraction properties leading to incontinence, frequency, etc.
Fascial depiction by Dr. J.C. Guimberteau

The role of the patient and therapist

Mind-body practitioners generally agree that in order to feel better, we have to get better at feeling. The patient is active in the healing process by staying present in their body, attentive to sensations and feelings that arise both during and after treatment. Expressing emotions that may spontaneously surface during treatment is encouraged by the therapist and can have a profound effect on the healing process. Feedback and communication from the patient is very valuable. In effect, therapist and patient are working together as a team to tap into the innate healing properties of the body. Performing the MFR techniques in areas of restriction allows for the body’s own self-correction. In this sense, the therapist acts as a facilitator and not a “fixer”.

What MFR can treat

The list of diagnoses located on the opening page of this website is a general list of some of the most common diagnoses that I see but should not be considered exhaustive. Diagnoses are simply labels for clusters of symptoms. They are an efficient way for the medical community to categorize disease and dysfunction. Treatment is then prescribed based on what is believed to be the cause of that particular category disease or dysfunction. However, the role of the fascial system in assessing or evaluating symptoms is commonly minimized or missed entirely. Why? The importance of the fascial system is not taught in the traditional medical model. Also, today’s diagnostic machines, such as MRI or X-RAY, do not detect fascial problems. This is important to consider if you are someone who has been told ‘nothing’ is wrong with you. Many people have received various forms of treatment even extensive surgeries, with limited or no relief. So, regardless of your diagnosis, or what you have been told is the cause of your problem, MFR treatment may be the missing link in your recovery.
Self treatment tools

Pelvic dysfunction and MFR

People are often surprised to hear that pelvic problems such as incontinence and various pelvic pain syndromes can be helped with MFR. The pelvic “floor” is composed of fascia, muscle, bone, nerves, etc, just like any other part of our body. It’s just a little harder to reach. Internal manual techniques are a critical part of treatment for pelvic problems. Diagnoses such as chronic pelvic pain, vulvadynia, vaginitis/vestibulitis, endometriosis, incontinence, dysparunia, dysmenorrhea are just a few examples of diagnoses that can be helped. They are rarely discussed, are undertreated, and yet surprisingly common. While these problems are more common in women, men with pelvic pain, incontinence, and prostatitis can also be helped.
These internal pelvic techniques can also be extremely helpful in treating other diagnoses and pain syndromes, especially headaches, low back and neck and even jaw pain. As mentioned above, symptoms are a result of restrictions sometimes quite distant and in seemingly unrelated areas of the body!