Myofascial release therapy (MFR) was developed by John F. Barnes, PT to specifically address the fascia, the connective tissue that runs like a three-dimensional web throughout the body. MFR involves applying gentle, sustained pressure into myofascial connective tissue restrictions to eliminate pain and restore motion. By going slowly and waiting for the body’s natural rhythm, the fascia responds by elongating, rehydrating, and reorganizing.
MFR is a hands-on treatment performed on the skin with no oils or creams. The gentle tension between the therapist’s hands and the patient’s skin is what allows access to the fascia in a way that the gliding effect of traditional massage cannot achieve. By following the unique lines of tension in each patient’s body, the MFR therapist can reach deeply into the tissues and uncover significant restrictions.
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.
Fascia is a web-like tissue that runs three-dimensionally throughout the body. It surrounds and supports every cell, nerve, organ, muscle, and bone in your body. When it is restricted, it dehydrates and becomes like glue. It not only loses its mobility, but it can also exert force on underlying structures — up to 2,000 lbs. per square inch! This tension can create pain when applied directly into pain-sensitive structures. It can also reduce range of motion in joints, cause muscle pain and fatigue when muscles have to work against tight fascia, and can even cause bizarre, seemingly unrelated symptoms when fascia entraps nerves.
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.
Additionally, fascia is tightly integrated into the autonomic nervous system. It is particularly effective at contracting throughout the entire body when the nervous system is in fight-or-flight mode, all in the interest of keeping us safe. But in a condition such as fibromyalgia, chronic back pain, neck pain, etc. the chronic activation of the fight-or-flight mode leaves the fascia in a constricted, tense state, which leads to pain and dysfunction.
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.
We do not use lotion or oil and please ask that you refrain from using lotion prior to your session. We use gentle sustained pressure into the fascia which requires skin on skin contact without worrying about sliding.
Please wear loose fitting clothing as I may have you moving around on the table, sitting or standing. I recommend shorts and a sports bra or tank top. Please, no yoga pants or leggings.
During your Myofascial Release session: I am constantly evaluating my clients during treatment. I will assess your posture and alignment and then will use gentle pressure to release the restrictions in areas that I feel are hot, hard or tender. While this work is very gentle, it is still possible that you may experience tenderness or tissue memory surfacing during the session. My clients are free to tell me to “ease up” my pressure or to “halt” at any time.
After your Myofascial Release session: 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 restriction.
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 Myofascial Release 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.
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.
Myofascial Release 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.”