Myofascial release – what it is and how it can be used to help with neck pain

Individuals experiencing headaches, breathing difficulties, muscle pain or spasms, Sciatica and chronic back and neck pain may have Myofascia damage which is the term for the “tissue of movement” that spans our entire body and looks like a spider web. This tissue is very strong and helps our bodies to maintain good posture, have free range of motion and allow us to enjoy the flexibility of movement that allows us to do all the activities that we enjoy each day. There are many things that can contribute to Myofascia damage which makes the flexible tissue become too tight including trauma such as when we fall or are involved in an automobile accident, have chronic poor posture, experience inflammation. Emotional or psychological stress and repetitive motions can also lead to this type of damage. To treat Myofascia damage many physical therapists will use a special stretching technique called, “Myofascial Release” (Jenings).

What is Fascia and what does it have to do with Myofascial Release?

John Barnes is the recognized founder for Myofascial Release and is largely credited for furthering the understanding and development of Myofascial Release as a recognized manual therapy to help relieve pain and discomfort associated with the connective tissue known as fascia. Fascia is found all over our bodies including muscles, organs, vessels, skin and bones. Fascia is responsible for giving us shape and also helps to hold everything together. It plays a very important role in our bodies. Without fascia our bodies would be just a pile of bones, tissues, organs and muscles. Damaged fascia becomes stiff and prevents our bodies from moving freely when damaged it can cause pain when we try to move. A special massage or stretching technique helps to work out the stiffness and relaxes the tissue so it can perform its task again and allow for free movement without pain (PureHealthMD Editors).

What does Myofascial Release do?

Through the techniques of stretching applied by physical therapists patients with Myofascia damage can receive relief from the symptoms of the tightness from injured fascia as the uneven tightness is released. The therapist stretches sore spots called “Myofascial Trigger Points” until they are relaxed (Manheim MS, M.Ed., PT, LPC). Several stretchings may be applied until the area is completely relaxed. A patient may have several areas that need attention, some they may not be aware of because they have been tight for a long time and the patient has become accustomed to the tightness and therefore no longer notices. The therapist can feel trigger points and tender points when they place hands on the neck or other body parts. Healing and change takes time and your brain must recognize that your muscle tension and posture are different and that this improved difference is the new “normal” for you, that make you, feel better. It may take a while for your brain to process this information so you may feel like the treatment is making your feel better than you feel as if you are taking a “step back” and then you feel better again…this is typical and is to be expected (Manheim MS, M.Ed., PT, LPC).

Who can benefit from Myofascial Release?

Anyone suffering from pains especially those suffering from chronic cervical pain (neck pain) and those who have suffered from Whiplash can benefit from Myofascial Release.
A person with trigger points or tender points in the neck muscles can experience headaches, feel as if their throat is closing or have eye pain (Manheim MS, M.Ed., PT, LPC).

Not all physical therapist practice or are trained in Myofascial Release. It is difficult for patients to locate those that do because there is no registry for therapist who practice Myofascial Release. Local physical and occupational therapy departments may be able to direct you to therapists they know in the area that can treat you with Myofascial Release.

Myofascial Release techniques can be used on patients of all ages including geriatrics and pediatrics.

Therapists can receive training when courses are sponsored at state or national professional organizations, at hospitals and at state and national professional conventions. Usually the courses are two to three days in length so if there are no therapists in your area that practice Myofascial Release you can pass on this information and let them know that the training is not that intensive and that it would benefit you and other patients. As a patient your input is valuable which is why lots of questions are part of the initial appointment. It is important for the therapist to understand what kind of pain issues you have been experiencing. A physical examination will also be a part of the initial appointment so that the therapist can discover your range of motion and your posture prior to therapy. It is this initial appointment that will be a fact gathering opportunity so that the therapist will better understand your condition so a treatment plan can be devised.

In conclusion, Myofascial Release therapy works to relieve pain because during therapy, the therapist will locate areas that feel stiff by touch and using stretching movements and manual pressure loosens the area, which relaxes the tissue and reduces pain. Myofascial Release may be used in addition to other therapies such as massage, and chiropractic manipulation. It is important to note that Myofascial Release therapy can vary from one therapist to another and that just like with all professionals you should ask questions about training and success rates before signing up for therapy sessions. Studies have shown that manual therapies work well for reduction of neck pain and individuals should feel free to explore the possibilities that exist from these therapies especially from the use of Myofascial Release therapy. Ask your healthcare provider about area physical therapists in your area and for a recommendation to one that practices Myofascial Release therapy.

References:

Jenings, B. (n.d.). What is myofascial release?. Retrieved
from http://jenings.com/what-is-myofascial-release.html

PureHealthMD Editors. (n.d.). Myofascial release.
Retrieved from
http://health.howstuffworks.com/medicine/tests-treatment/myofascial-release.htm

Manheim MS, M.Ed., PT, LPC, C. J. (n.d.). What is mfr?.
Retrieved from http://www.myofascial-release.com/

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