What is this “Myofascial Release” you speak of?
Perhaps your doctor or physical therapist recently mentioned that you should consider getting “myofascial release.” Your physical therapist may have incorporated myofascial release into your treatment, but you are still left wondering, “what in the world are you people talking about? What is a myo-facial anyway?”
I believe that information is an important component to your health and well-being, so I’m going to do my very best to explain to you the myofascial phenomenon.
I have to admit, I generally don’t like health fads. Just because there’s hype around it doesn’t make it fabulous or appropriate for everyone, but in this case, I am thrilled that more people are talking about and suggesting myofascial release. It is a super effective treatment for pain relief and injury prevention. If you’ve looked at my website at all, you’ll know…that’s kind of my gig! Okay, back to the point…
First things first: definitions!
Myo refers to Muscle:
(perhaps you’ve heard your favorite hunk on Grey’s Anatomy sling out the long phrase “myocardial infarction” to explain to another doctor that the patient had a heart attack… well “myocardial” means heart muscle)
Fascial refers to a thin layer of tissue that wraps all muscles and organs in the body like plastic wrap:
(ever notice that thin translucent layer on raw chicken breast; that’s fascia) This thin layer plays some important roles in your body. It helps the different layers of tissue move around each other smoothly.
If you look at a cross section of the arm, this is the order in which you would see the components that make up that arm. Your skin is the top layer: it contains and protects your internal organs, muscles, blood vessels, etc.
Under your skin is a layer of fat (called adipose tissue), which stores energy and provides a little bit of cushion
Under that is your muscle. There are usually multiple layers of muscles laying this way and that. Your muscles contract (get shorter) and pull on your bones to create movement throughout your body.
Next layer after your muscle is bone, and then muscle, adipose tissue, and skin.
If you were able to follow along there, you’re probably thinking, “ok great, fascia covers the muscles so that they can glide back and forth while I move my bones around. So what’s the problem?”
You may not be aware, but your body is busy taking care of itself all day, every day. While we clumsily stumble through life, our body is patching and repairing the damage. This beautiful self-help kit is awesome, but sometimes the patches (scar tissue) that the body lays down on connective tissue, muscle, and fascia start to get a little sticky. Then we inevitably don’t drink enough water, and our fascia gets dehydrated, and no longer has that great smooth glide to it. All of sudden we start waking up feeling a little creaky. You might think to yourself, “oh, I must be getting old.” Don’t ever say that to yourself again! Why? Because age is not a disease! And now you have the knowledge to say, “oh darn my sticky fascia! I will drink more water today, and stretch.”
Now you are familiar with what “myofascial” is, and a couple of reasons why it might need to be “released.” But if all you need to do to take care of your fascia is drink water, stretch and move your body, then why would you need a physical therapist’s or massage therapist’s expertise to help with that?
If you haven’t caught on by now, I’m here to answer just that!
When pain and movement dysfunction goes beyond the point of “feeling a little creaky” to “wow I can’t move my arm!” you might want to find someone to help you get out of pain and muscle dysfunction. Myofascial Release is a very effective massage technique that moves the fascia away from surrounding muscle, connective tissue, and adipose tissue to free up the fascia from scar tissue and adhesions, and allows for more freedom of movement.
Congratulations! You made it through Myofascial Release 101 (Marly’s perspective), and are now able to make more informed decisions about what your body needs! Doesn’t that feel good!?
Myofascial Release Resources
Here’s a really great video that further explains myofascial adhesions: Gil Hedley: Fascia and stretching: the Fuzz speech
My Useful Information page has a longer list of ailments that can be helped using myofascial release techniques.