What is Myofascial Release Therapy®

Myofascial Release (MFR), as taught by John F. Barnes, is a safe, gentle and consistently effective technique which produces positive and lasting results. It is a very effective hands-on procedure that applies sustained pressure into the myofascial restrictions, eliminating pain and headaches and restoring motion.

Fascia is a tough, connective tissue that spreads throughout the body in a three-dimensional web from the head to the feet without interruption. Trauma, surgery, inflammation, etc. often restricts this web, resulting in highly intense pressure. This pressure, which is approximately 2,000 pounds per square inch, directly affects the nerves, muscles, blood vessels, bones and organs.

Standard testing procedures such as X-rays, CAT scans, etc., do not reveal fascia restrictions. It is generally agreed that a high percentage of people suffering with pain, headaches, fibromyalgia or lack of motion may have issues caused by fascia restrictions that go undetected or misdiagnosed.

The facial system is similar to a spider web as a powerful uninterrupted “web” that exists from head to toe. In its normal healthy state, fascia is relaxed and wavy in configuration. It has the ability to stretch and move. When people have experienced physical trauma, surgery or inflammation, the fascia loses its flexibility and becomes like a “straitjacket” with crushing pressure and pain throughout the body.

Myofascial release is considered to be one of the most important and effective forms of therapy in the health care industry.

Pain has been viewed according to two main schools of thought: “mask the pain” and “no pain, no gain.” The first school is concerned with avoiding pain, masking the symptoms, and showing the patient how to cope with their problem. The second school believes that the patient has to undergo forceful massage or bodywork techniques that generate enduring pain in order to resolve the issue.

Unlike these traditional therapies, Myofascial Release is focused not just on symptoms but on the root of the problem, producing effective and lasting results.

The Fascia

The human body has a three-dimensional web of tough connective tissue that spreads from head to feet without interruption called “fascia”. The fascia functions to provide structure and support to all parts of our body, acting as a shock absorber and complementing our immune system. The fascia not only covers, but also interpenetrates every muscle, bone, blood vessel, nerve, organ — all the way down to the individual cells.

Our fascial system is composed of 80 percent collagen fibers which have a little stretchability and act to provide support; 20 percent elastin fibers that are stretchable and allow for movement; and ground substance or matrix, a gelatinous substance that surrounds the collagen and elastin fibers and also provide support and shock absorption.

Because fascia is invisible to many of the standard test such as x-ray, myelograms, CAT scans, electromyography, etc., the symptoms of the pain are often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

Fascial Restrictions

In its normal state, fascia is relaxed and wavy in configuration. However, trauma, surgery or bracing against pain, inflammation, stress and poor posture can make the fascial system shortened and solidified. Tightness and binding restriction of the fascia can cause pressure of approximately 2,000 pounds per square inch on the structures of the body resulting in chronic pain, headaches and limitation of motion. In fact, because the fascia is continuous throughout our body, fascial restrictions in one area can create new fascial restrictions in the area pulled on.

Fascial restrictions can affect us even at the cellular level since the cell itself contains a fascial framework. If a cell is not able to maintain its shape, it may have difficulty receiving and assimilating the substance it needs to operate optimally. Therefore, it is possible that a person can eat a healthy diet yet be nutrient-deficient because the cells cannot receive the nutrients or process them effectively. Dehydration, hormone imbalances and toxicity issues may also occur.

The MFR Approach

The Myofascial Release Approach involves stretches and compressions, applied with gentle, sustained pressure into the fascial system, which are held until the stress is released. The pressure used during the treatment is gentle, never exceeding a patient’s tolerance. Because of its gentleness, many individuals wonder how it could possibly work; they may feel deceived when they do not notice immediate and significant results.

Some patients may not feel any effects until a day after the treatment. However, it has been shown that under a small amount of pressure, fascia will soften and begin to release when the pressure is sustained over time. The release of the pain around the muscles, nerves, blood vessel and the osseous structures creates a free, mobile environment for these pain-sensitive structures, producing consistent results in relieving pain and restoring functional mobility.

The Technique

The type of Myofascial Release technique chosen by the therapist will depend upon where the fascia is restricted. While the therapist treats the inflamed area, she may find that the root of the problem lies in other areas. In fact, the objective of the therapist is to look at the entire body for answers. Each treatment is different every time, an approach which allows the therapist to adapt appropriately to the needs of the patient given that symptoms and tissues are constantly evolving.

In general, acute cases will resolve with a few treatments. The longer the problem has been present, the longer it will generally take to resolve it. Some chronic conditions may require  three treatments per week for three to four months to obtain optimal results. Experience indicates that fewer than two treatments per week will often result in fascia creeping back to the level prior to the last treatment.

Range of motion and stretching exercise given to the patient will, however, keep this regression between treatments minimal.

What To Expect After The Treatment

The patient may experience increased pain for several hours after the treatment, followed by remarkable improvement. Often, improvement is noted immediately during or after a treatment, or it may require multiple sessions. Occasionally, new pain in new areas will be experienced, or a sense of lightheadedness or nausea. All of these are normal reactions of the body to the profound, but positive changes that have occurred from releasing fascial restrictions.

The restriction release is accompanied by the release of trapped metabolic waste products in the surrounding tissue and bloodstream. Therefore, it is particularly recommended that the patient drink lots of water during the course of the treatment to reduce the feeling of nausea and lightheadedness.

Through the gentle, noninvasive touch of MFR, many people have already experienced the benefit of reducing or eliminating back pain, sciatica, scoliosis, neck pain, shoulder pain, headaches, migraines and more. MFR has helped innumerable people around the world to permanently relieve symptoms that traditional medicine could do nothing about. Being open minded, patient and listening deeply pays off in unimaginable ways!

The Mind-Body Connection

Recent scientific data supports the idea that the mind and memory are not only contained within the brain but also within the body, and even within the cells themselves. Since MFR looks at the entire body for its answers, many emotional ailments can be addressed through this modality as well. In fact, fascial restrictions can also be a result of the unconscious bracing against stress, beliefs, blocked energy and emotions.

One example of this involves memory associated with the senses. Sights, sounds and smells can all evoke emotionally charged memories. For instance, the smell of freshly baked apple pie could conjure up a smile as it reminds us of a joyful Thanksgiving, while the sound of a drill could initiate fear, since it may be linked to a painful dental appointment.

These memories are not only stored in our thoughts but are held within the very fabric of our being. When these memories are called up, whether consciously or not, we just don’t think about them, we experience them, especially if there is a high emotional charge associated with a memory.

In the same way, myofascial restrictions can be created in response to stress or belief systems. For example, a person may develop back pain due to poor posture as a result of growing up in a volatile household. The person may have literally shrunk to not be seen or noticed in an attempt to increase his personal safety; he may have developed the belief that standing up for oneself could have exposed him to be severely judged. Later in life, that person may find that any time he does try to attain a more upright posture he experiences anxiety or shame, in addition to physical pain.

The Flight/Fight/Freeze Response

Fascial restriction can also occur as a result of unresolved or ongoing stress conditions. When our body perceives a physical or mental threat, it reacts with a stress response of fight or flight. From field mice to humans, animals respond to a sudden threat by either fleeing or preparing to battle for their lives. The biology of fight-or-flight is the same whether we are facing a charging mountain lion or an angry boss. Our heart rate increases, and blood flows away from skin and the digestive tract — and toward muscle — so that we can battle or run.

When “fight or flight”response is not an option, our nervous system goes into a “freeze” response and we become immobilized. Freezing is a mechanism of survival which alters our state of consciousness when death appears imminent. On the outside, it may look like we have collapsed, but on the inside there is a buildup of energy. When the threat dissipates, the energy is unleashed into the fight or flight sequence, and the stress-response cycle has been completed. This is the “thawing” of the freeze response, when the adrenaline is released from the system. This is very natural and healing, and should be allowed to occur. If it doesn’t, the energy can become stuck in the body, causing the tissue to tighten around that area of trapped energy, resulting in the formation of restrictions.

Restrictions can also occur during times when the perceived threat is ongoing or when the person has never felt safe enough for the “thawing” of the freeze response to happen. Victims of abuse often freeze when they’re in the presence of their abusers or people who resemble them, like they did when they were actually abused.

You Have To Feel It To Heal It

MFR therapy can bring to the surface emotions and sensations experienced at the time of the trauma. It is very important for the patient to be in tune with their mind and body so they can accurately notice and interpret any feeling that may arise. The memory can then come to the surface and the “freeze” response can help discharge toxins from the body, allowing for the restriction and any associated symptoms to be released.

The majority of people are not connected to their bodies. This can happen for several reasons. For example, a person can become numb when a trauma occurs to cope with the intensity of the situation. Others may disconnect due to their beliefs; for example, responding to pain may be considered a form of weakness in their culture. Some people may not listen to their body when exercising, instead pushing on with an attitude of no pain/no gain. Finally, our parents may have taught us that it is better to think than to feel.

As a result, we often ignore the subtle manner of our body’s attempts to communicate with us, which ultimately delivers the message via pain to get our attention. As we connect with the pain and work with our body, the pain dissolves; in the process, our emotions can be uncovered, helping to complete the healing process. That’s why John F. Barnes says, “You have to feel it to heal it.”