Myofascial release is generally an extremely mild and gentle form of stretching that has a profound effect upon the body tissues. Because of its gentleness, many individuals wonder how it could possibly work.
Fascia (also called connective tissue) is a tissue system of the body to which relatively little attention has been given in the past. Fascia is composed of two types of fibers:
- Collagenous fibers are very tough and have little elasticity
- Elastic fibers 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 tips 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.
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 people 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. This is because the fascia of the body is all interconnected, and a restriction in one region can theoretically put a “drag” on the fascia in any other direction.
The trained therapist has a thorough understanding of the fascial system and will “release” the fascia in areas that she knows have a strong “drag” on your area of injury. This is, therefore, a whole body approach to treatment.
A key to the success of myofascial release treatments is to keep the pressure and stretch mild. Muscle tissue responds to a relative firm stretch but this is not the case with fascia. Remember that the collagenous fibers of fascia are extremely tough and resistant to stretch. It has been shown that under a small amount of pressure (applied by a therapist’s hand) fascia will soften and release when the gentle pressure is sustained over time.
Experience indicates that fewer than two treatments per week will often result in fascial tightness creeping back to the level prior to the last treatment. Range of motion and stretching exercise given to you will help you keep this regression between treatments minimal.
Frequently there is increased pain for severals hours to a day after treatment, followed by remarkable improvement. Often remarkable improvement is noted immediately during or after the treatment. Sometimes new pains in new areas will be experienced. There is sometimes a feeling of light-headedness or nausea. Sometimes people experience a temporary emotional change. All of these are normal reactions of the body to the profound, but positive, changes that have occurred by releasing fascial restrictions.
It is felt that release of tight tissue is accompanied by release of trapped metabolic waste products in the surrounding tissue and bloodstream. I highly recommend that you “flush your system” by drinking a lot of water during the course of your treatments, so that nausea and light-headedness will reamain minimal or absent.
Adapted by Judi Nelson PT from the article “Myofascial Release – An Introduction for the Patient” by Tim Juett PT, Physical Therapy Forum, October 3, 1988.