Myofascial Release for Chronic Pain
Chronic pain is pain that lasts longer than three months or that continues well beyond the time when healing would be expected to be complete. It is one of the most difficult conditions for medical practitioners to diagnose and treat. The most common type of chronic pain is lower back pain.
Three factors complicate the treatment of chronic pain. First, chronic pain is not always associated with a specific injury or disease. Second, chronic pain is rarely constant; it often comes and goes for no obvious reason. Third, pain intensity is subjective and depends on a description by the patient. Because alternative practitioners tend to treat the whole body rather than one particular system, they often find success in relieving nonspecific chronic pain. Myofascial release is one alternative therapy used to treat chronic pain.
How Does Myofascial Release Help with Chronic Pain?
Chronic pain can be caused by many conditions that create uneven stress on the fascia, or the thin, strong connective tissue that covers muscles and bones and surrounds internal organs such as the heart, lungs, and intestines.
These conditions include:
- Back strain or injury
- Injury to joints
- Repetitive Stress Injuries (RSI)
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS)
- Strains and sprains from falls
- Plantar fasciitis
- Physical stress
- Psychological stress
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)
- Psychological stress
- Poor posture
As the myofascial release practitioner performs gentle stretching and compression of the fascia and the muscles, the body relaxes and uneven tension on the fascia begins to self-correct. This release of tension affects the entire body because all fascia is interconnected. Some patients find that strong emotions are released along with physical tension. This emotional release can be especially helpful to patients whose stress and chronic pain has a psychological component.
There are no scientific studies that exactly explain how Myofascial Release works. Nevertheless, practitioners believe that correcting uneven strain on the fascia releases tension. This increases free movement of the fascia, helps muscles to move more easily, and relieves chronic pain throughout the body.
What is Myofascial Release?
Myofascial Release is a type of bodywork that helps release uneven stress in the fascia and restores equal muscle tension by increasing flexibility of the fascia. Normal, healthy fascia is flexible and provides a seamless, interconnected web that supports body structures.
Sprains, strains, scarring from surgery or injury, inflammation, disease, trauma from falls, repetitive stress, and even poor posture create uneven stress on the fascia. When the fascia is stressed, it loses its flexibility and no longer moves normally when the body moves. This creates unequal tension on muscles and causes them to lock or alter the way they move. This tension can result in chronic pain. Myofascial Release uses soft tissue massage techniques to restore the flexibility of the fascia and release tension from muscles. Occasionally Myofascial Release is referred to as connective tissue massage.
What Happens During a Myofascial Release Session?
Myofascial Release sessions usually last about one hour and can occur from one to three times a week. During the initial session, the practitioner and the client will discuss the client’s pain, treatment goals, and how Myofascial Release will help achieve those goals. The practitioner will also do a visual evaluation of the client’s posture and movement to help pinpoint potential sources of the pain. There is no standard protocol for a Myofascial Release session. Therapy is individualized based on the client’s pain and the feedback the practitioner gets from working with the client’s body.
The client usually wears a bathing suit or sports bra and pants to provide the practitioner maximum access to the body. No lubricant is used. The practitioner will use light pressure, compression, and traction to stretch the affected fascia. The process is slow and generally comfortable for the client. The process increases blood flow to the site and encourages the fascia to relax, unwind, and correct itself.
The practitioner also uses gentle pressure to find any painful trigger points and determines which part of the body needs work based on the feedback obtained from touch. Often only one or two parts of the body are worked on in a single session. Nevertheless, because all fascia is connected, working on one area will benefit the entire body. Normally the client will not feel stiff or sore on the day following treatment. Occasionally deeper, more intense pressure is needed if the fascia is tightly bound, and this may result in some brief soreness.
Although the client may begin to feel better after a single session, it generally takes three or more sessions before seeing relief of specific symptoms. Clients should check with their insurance company about coverage for payment. If Myofascial Release therapy is prescribed by a physician or administered by a licensed physical or occupational therapist, a specific number of sessions may be covered by insurance.
Who Does Myofascial Release?
In the United States, there is no national body that certifies practitioners of Myofascial Release. Although some form of Myofascial Release has been done since the 1940s, John T. Barnes, a physical therapist, popularized the technique in the 1990s. Many people trained in Myofascial Release are physical or occupational therapists, osteopathic physicians, or chiropractors who have taken special classes, often taught by Barnes, to learn the technique. Other practitioners of Myofascial Release have training in additional bodywork techniques such as Rolfing, Swedish massage, and deep-tissue massage.
American Cancer Society website offers a brief description of Myofascial Release for cancer patients.
Academy for the Healing Arts Massage and Bodyworks website has a FAQ section on Myofascial Release.