Myofascial release is the all-encompassing name to describe the many types of massages. Myo-, meaning muscle and fascia being the connective tissue that weaves through the body binding all muscles together.
Because the muscles and fascia are continuous throughout the body, tension in one area can cause pain or dysfunction in other areas. For example, excessive tightness in a muscles in the front of the chest (i.e. pectoralis minor) can rotate the shoulder forward. This shoulder imbalance will cause a constant pulling on the muscles in the back between the shoulder blades. As these back muscles exhaust themselves attempting to correct the shoulder imbalance, they become painful and develop trigger points. Similar circumstances can occur just about anywhere in the body. The above example is also a very common cause of postural related neck pain and headaches.
The reason that there are different myofascial release techniques is because of the different things that can occur within the muscles and fascia. Common muscle dysfunctions are trigger points, adhesions and densification. A trigger point is when a small focal muscle fiber is in a sustained contraction. It usually occurs as a result of the surrounding muscles needing to be strengthened. These trigger points are often found in the back and hips and are a common cause of low back pain. Muscle adhesions typically happen after an injury or severe strain to a muscle. Densification is used to describe congestion and thickening of fluid within the fascia. The fluid is called hyaluronic acid and is the same substance that is found between joints. It lubricates and allows sliding of muscles and fascia; I think of it as the body’s natural motor oil. When it condenses and becomes congested it creates the knots within the muscles and fascia.
Ultimately, myofascial release helps to realign muscle fibers and allow them to maintain a normal length. Additionally, they help increase blood flow and circulation deep into the muscles which improves muscle metabolism. Spinal manipulation should also be considered when having myofascial release done. Muscle and joint dysfunctions typically occur together and it is recommended to correct the muscle and joint dysfunctions for the best results.