Myofascial Release for Pain Relief

INTRODUCTION

The John F. Barnes Myofascial Release Approach is a gentle form of sustained pressure into the myo-fascial restrictions. (myo is muscle) that has a profound effect upon the body tissues, which helps restore injuries and overall body homeostasis.Because of its gentleness, many individuals wonder how it could possibly work. To help you understand, we are providing you with this article.

FASCIA

Fascia (also called connective tissue) is a connective tissue system of the body to which relatively little attention has been given in the past. Fascia is composed of two types of fibers: A) Collagenous fibers which are very tough and have little stretchability; B) Elastic fibers which are stretchable. From the functional point of view, the body fascia may be regarded as a continuous laminated sheet of connective tissue that extends without interruption from the top of the head to the tip of the toes. It surrounds and invades every other tissue and organ of the body, including nerves, vessels, muscle and bone. Fascia is more dense in some areas than others. Dense fascia is easily recognizable (for example, the tough white membrane that we often find surrounding butchered meat).

WHEN FASCIA IS INJURED

Because fascia permeates all regions of the body and is all interconnected, when it scars and hardens in one area (following injury, inflammation, disease, surgery, etc.), it can put tension on adjacent pain-sensitive structures as well as on structures in far-away areas. Some patients have bizarre pain symptoms that appear to be unrelated to the original or primary complaint. These bizarre symptoms can now often be understood in relationship to our understanding of the fascial system.

ANATOMY OF FASCIA

The majority of the fascia of the body is oriented vertically. There are, however, four major planes of fascia in the body that are oriented in more of a crosswise (or transverse) plane. These four transverse planes are extremely dense. They are called the pelvic diaphragm, respiratory diaphragm, thoracic inlet and cranial base. Frequently, all four of these transverse planes will become restricted when fascial

adhesions occur in just about any part of the body. This is because this fascia of the body is all interconnected, and a restriction in one region can put a “drag” on the fascia in any other direction.

TREATING FASCIAL RESTRICTIONS

The point of all the above information is to help you understand that during myofascial release treatments, you may be treated in areas that you may not think are related to your condition. The trained therapist has a thorough understanding of the fascial system and will “release” the fascia in areas that he knows have a strong “drag” on your area of injury. This is, therefore, a whole body approach to treatment. A good example is the chronic low back pain patient; although the low back is primarily involved, the patient may also have significant discomfort in the neck. This is due to the gradual tightening of the muscles and especially of the fascia, as this tightness has crept its way up the back, eventually creating neck and head pain. Experience shows that optimal resolution of the low back pain requires release of the fascia of both the head and neck; if the neck tightness is not also released it will continue to apply a “drag” in the downward direction until fascial restriction and pain has again returned to the low back.

Muscle provides the greatest bulk of our body’s soft tissue. Because all muscle is enveloped by and ingrained with fascia, myofascial release is the term that has been given to the techniques that are used to relieve soft tissue from the abnormal grip of tight fascia (“myo” means “Muscle”).

The type of myofascial release technique chosen by the therapist will depend upon where in your body the therapist finds the fascia restricted. If it is restricted through the neck to the arm, he/she may apply a very gentle traction to the arm, very slowly moving the arm through range as restrictions are released. If it is restricted in the back (more superficial than deep) he may apply a very gentle stretch on the skin across the back, with the use of two hands. If the thoracic inlet, deep transverse fascia is suspected of being restricted, the therapist may place one hand on the upper back and one over the collarbone area in front and apply extremely gentle pressure.

A key to the success of myofascial release treatments is to keep the pressure and stretch extremely mild. Muscle tissue responds to a relatively firm stretch, but this is not the case with fascia. Remember the collagenous fibers of fascia are extremely tough and resistant to stretch. In fact, it is estimated that fascia has a tensile strength of as much as 2000 pounds per square inch. (No wonder when it tightens, it can cause pain.)

However, it has been shown that under a small amount of pressure (applied by a therapist’s hands) fascia will soften and begin to release when the pressure is sustained over time. This can be likened to pulling on a piece of taffy with only a small, sustained pressure.

Another important aspect of myofascial release techniques is holding the technique long enough. The therapeutic affect will begin to take place after holding a gentle stretch and following the tissue three dimensionally with skilled, sensitive hands.

Myofascial Release is gentle, but it has profound effects upon the body tissues. Do not let the gentleness deceive you. You may leave after the first treatment feeling like nothing happened. Later (even a day later) you may begin to feel the effects of the treatment.