Myofascial Release Therapy

Myofascial Release Therapy

Myofascial release (MFR) therapy focuses on releasing muscular shortness and tightness. There are a number of conditions and symptoms that myofascial release therapy addresses.

Many patients seek myofascial treatment after losing flexibility or function following an injury or if experiencing ongoing back, shoulder, hip, or virtually pain in any area containing soft tissue.

Other conditions treated by myofascial release therapy include Temporo-Mandibular Joint (TMJ) disorder, carpal tunnel syndrome, or possibly fibromyalgia or migraine headaches. Patient symptoms usually include:

  • Tightness of the tissues that restricts motion or pulls the body out of alignment, causing individuals to favor and overuse one hip or shoulder, for example
  • A sense of excessive pressure on muscles or joints that produces pain
  • Pain in any part or parts of the body, including headache or back pain.
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Causes of Myofascial Pain

Myofascial pain can have two sources. Pain can be generated from the skeletal muscle or connective tissues that are 'bound down' by tight fascia. In addition, pain can also be generated from damaged myofascial tissue itself, sometimes at a 'trigger point' where a contraction of muscle fibers has occurred. In either case, the restriction or contraction inhibits blood flow to the affected structures, thus accentuating the contraction process further unless the area is treated.

The goal of myofascial therapy is to stretch and loosen the fascia so that it and other contiguous structures can move more freely, and the patient's motion is restored. For this reason, myofascial therapy is sometimes referred to as 'myofascial release' therapy. It may also be referred to as 'myofascial trigger point therapy' by others.

Who Provides Myofascial Release Therapy?

Many different types of health professionals can provide myofascial release therapy, including appropriately trained osteopathic physicians, chiropractors, physical or occupational therapists, massage therapists, or sports medicine/injury specialists. Specific training and courses in Myofascial Release Therapy are generally necessary and can be extensive to attain a high level of competency.

Therapy sessions follow a pattern similar to physical therapy for post-operative rehabilitation. An initial appointment will be devoted to locating the areas of the fascia that appear to be restricted, and measuring the level of loss of motion or loss of symmetry in the body. Subsequent treatment sessions may:

  • Last at least 30 but optimally 50 minutes or more per session
  • Be conducted daily or every few days
  • Take place at outpatient clinic or health center
  • Have a trained therapist provide hands-on treatment in a relaxing, private therapy room
  • Take place over a few weeks or months, depending on the nature and intensity of disability.

The specific releases to different parts of the body vary, but generally include gentle application of pressure or sustained low load stretch to the affected area. Progress is gauged by the level of increased motion or function experienced, and/or decrease in pain felt by the patient.

Additional Treatments with Myofascial Release Therapy

Myofascial therapy can be a precursor and complement to other treatments. Patients who engage in myofascial therapy also may benefit from other forms of nonsurgical care that aim to control pain and keep muscles and joints warm and loose. These include:

  • Using non-prescription pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen
  • Applying heat to soothe constricted muscles or using ice to calm swollen areas
  • Performing self-stretching exercises to maintain flexibility and increase range of motion or aerobic exercise to increase blood flow to the affected areas.

Myofascial therapy can also enhance or assist other treatments to increase their effectiveness such as acupuncture, manipulation, physical therapy, or occupational therapy. Myofascial release therapy can also improve skeletal and muscular alignment prior to a surgery, or help athletes achieve better alignment prior to sports competitions.

By targeting specific areas of the fascial system, myofascial therapy can help prepare patients for more aggressive forms of strengthening, or provide pain relief for patients with restricted flexibility and movement, thus allowing patients to return to normal movement and greater function.

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Article written by: Lisa Ganfield, OTR/L, CHT