Like a massage, but more specific to help with muscle pain/tension and fascia restrictions.
The most forward-thinking chiropractors recognize that muscles are crucial to alignment and movement. Muscular tension and fascial restrictions interfere with the optimal mechanics of the spine and body. Addressing muscle and fascial dysfunctions enhances the benefits of other therapies, such as chiropractic adjustments and physical therapy.
Myo- means muscle, the contractile tissue responsible for moving our bones. In traditional anatomy classes, individual muscles are carefully studied and emphasized.
More recently, fascia has been gaining notoriety, becoming respected for its role in holding muscles in place. Fascia is the gluey web of connective tissues that weaves throughout and envelops muscles, binding them tightly together.
Myofascial is used to respect the interconnectedness of muscles and fascia. Without the fascia, muscles would not have the necessary structure and support to function correctly. Essentially, the myofascial system permeates the entire body and is responsible for every detail of movement and alignment.
Manual therapies that address pain or dysfunction arising from muscles and fascia are collectively called myofascial release. Most forms of massage therapy could technically be considered myofascial release. However, when therapists are working on muscles and connective tissue collectively with the intent to alter its structure and function, it is more appropriately called myofascial release.
A textbook definition of myofascial release is the use of mechanical force to manipulate the myofascial complex intended to decrease pain and improve function.
Most therapists licensed to use their hands and touch clients therapeutically can perform myofascial release. Chiropractors, massage therapists, and physical therapists perform myofascial release most commonly.
The difference is mainly in terminology and the intent of the session. Typically, myofascial release is reserved for when a practitioner uses deep pressure to manipulate the fascia connective tissue to change its flexibility. Myofascial release is also more commonly used when working with clients to overcome an injury or pain syndrome such as myofascial pain syndrome.
Massage is a general term used in most situations where a therapist therapeutically touches a client. A great example of the difference is considering a lymphatic massage, which intends to improve superficial lymphatic circulation. Lymphatic massage is a type of massage but would not be considered a form of myofascial release.
Our chiropractors and massage therapists provide comprehensive myofascial release therapy to complement adjustments and stretching. Common types of myofascial release include active release technique (ART), transverse friction massage (TFM), and cupping.
There are several proposed mechanisms for how myofascial release relieves pain and improves the function of the musculoskeletal system. The most common explanations are that it can release fascial restrictions, rejuvenate damaged tissues, improve circulation, and stimulate nervous system reflexes.
The process of rejuvenating injured tissues is fascinating. When collagen fibers (the stuff that makes up tendons and fascia) become overly stressed, the cells replace with less durable and less resilient collagen cells. A therapy called transverse friction massage speeds up the process of breaking down old and injured collagen, stimulating a response to repair and regenerate stronger collagen fibers. The same regenerating process is thought to occur within fascia as well.
Tension points within the fascia can interfere with optimal movements elsewhere in the body. For example, if there are fascial restrictions in the shoulder, it can impair how the neck moves. Myofascial release can relax those fascial restrictions, improving the body's overall performance.
Muscles, tendons, and especially fascia have microscopic (very tiny) nerve fibers that sense touch and let you know where you are in space. Specific pressures in critical areas of the body with high densities of these nerve fibers can reflexively relieve pain and improve coordination of muscle movements.
A final component of how myofascial release works has to do with enhancing circulation. Trigger points, for example, are thought to be painful due to reduced blood flow from the muscle, which causes congestion. The congestion leads to insufficient oxygen and inflammation, which can become painful. Certain types of myofascial releases, such as ischemic compression, help return the blood flow and muscle function to their normal state.
The best form of myofascial release depends on the goals of the therapy. For example, stretching and post-isometric relaxation techniques would be most valuable if the goal is to increase mobility. As mentioned previously, transverse friction massage regenerates connective tissue collagen. The key message is that there are a variety of techniques, and there is not one that is best in all circumstances. A qualified chiropractor or massage therapist should be able to discuss options and help you decide which would be best for you.
Many injuries can cause muscle and connective tissue pain. The most common are muscle strains, joint sprains, tendinitis, tendinosis, and muscle spasms. Myofascial release is used to treat each of the above effectively.
Other conditions treated by chiropractors using myofascial release are neck pain, TMJ, headaches, hip pain, shoulder pain and low back pain. The following are other musculoskeletal pains commonly treated with myofascial release:
Myofascial pain syndrome is chronic unexplained muscle pain in a particular region or quadrant of the body. This pain is usually very frustrating because its cause is not very well understood. Myofascial pain syndrome is very similar to fibromyalgia. The main difference is that fibromyalgia is usually more widespread pain throughout the body. It's thought that myofascial pain syndrome is due to trigger points.
Trigger points are sustained contractions within a small bundle of muscle fibers. Think of something similar to a muscle spasm but in a tiny focal point. The hardness results from excessive activity at the junction where the nerve communicates with the muscle. In addition to myofascial release, acupuncture and exercise help treat trigger points.
During myofascial release techniques, certain body regions should be avoided or approached with caution to prevent injury or discomfort. These areas include bony prominences, nerves, areas with open wounds, bruised or inflamed tissues, and organs. It's crucial to have a good understanding of anatomy and physiology, as well as proper training and guidance when performing myofascial release techniques to ensure safety and effectiveness.
Proprioceptive receptors include muscle spindles and Golgi tendon organs (GTO). Think of them as microscopic position and pressure sensors within muscles, tendons, fascia, and joint capsules. Muscle spindles are mostly prominent within muscles, and Golgi tendon organs are found within tendons, fascia, and joint capsules.
During myofascial release, the application of gentle, sustained pressure on the fascial tissues helps to release restrictions and stimulate proprioceptors in muscle and fascia. This can enhance proprioceptive feedback by improving the mobility and flexibility of the fascia, which in turn can help to improve body awareness and coordination.
Acupuncture and a technique called dry needling are often used to treat trigger points and facilitate a relaxation response. Dry needling is very similar to acupuncture; however, the philosophy and needle placements are different.
In the philosophy of acupuncture, it is believed that needles placed in specific locations release a healing energy called Qi. On the other hand, proponents of dry needling think in terms of reflex responses. Putting a needle in the center of a trigger point resets nerve impulses, relaxing the trigger point.
Joint restrictions are frequently found near the areas of muscle tension. Chiropractors that do myofascial release can address muscle and joint dysfunction for the most holistic treatment.
Stress and anxiety are contributors to muscle tension and pain. There are several stress management techniques, each working to varying degrees for different people. Examples of stress management strategies are meditation, breathing techniques, journaling, yoga, exercise, and counseling. Also, developing meaningful relationships and living life with purpose and passion help mitigate the consequences of stress and anxiety.
Dr. O’Guin has been integrating myofascial release with chiropractic care since 2008. Additionally, he has been an adjunct instructor at Logan University, where he taught myofascial classes as well as advanced biomechanics and rehabilitation. If you’re looking for a comprehensive approach to treating musculoskeletal injuries, including back pain, neck pain, shoulder or hip, O’Guin Wellness is top-notch.
Whether you're a new patient looking for answers and solutions to a complicated condition, or just need a chiropractic adjustment, our office can help. Our chiropractors can help no matter if you are recovering from an injury or are experiencing chronic back pain or neck pain, so call O'Guin Wellness today!
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