Myofascial Release or MFR
- Myo = muscle
- Fascia = the main connective tissue in the body
- Release = to let go, ease pressure
Fascia is the main connective tissue in the body. Fascia surrounds every cell, muscle, bone, nerve, blood vessel in the body, creating a three-dimensional web which spreads from head to toe.
Structurally fascia consists of protein fibres, collagen for strength and elastin for flexibility, and a fluid ‘packing material’ which is found in all body tissues. In its normal state fascia is fluid and pliable, allowing full, pain-free movement.
However, fascia is vulnerable to trauma from accident, infection, injury, surgery or repetitive movement. Such trauma causes fascia to tighten, solidify and develop restrictions. Over time these myofascial restrictions can lead to poor biomechanics, altered structural alignment, compromised blood supply and pain.
Myofascial restrictions do not show up on standard tests such as x-rays or MRI scans, which means they are rarely diagnosed as the cause of chronic pain conditions. Many people with fascial restrictions are prescribed medication such as anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants or even anti-epileptics. In some cases, surgery might be offered as a last resort.
Myofascial release is a non-invasive, gentle hands-on soft tissue technique that works on the fascia to release restrictions. The technique involves applying a gentle stretch to the restricted fascia until resistance is felt. Sustained pressure is then applied for 90-120 seconds or more until the therapist senses the first myofascial releases, which are sometimes accompanied by heat and reddening of the skin as blood flow is restored. As these releases occur the therapist can follow the trail of further restrictions until the tissue becomes softer and more pliable. These releases take the pressure off pain sensitive structures such as nerves and blood vessels, and restore alignment and mobility to muscles and joints.
So what is myofascial release? Myofascial release is a technique that has been developed by medical doctors, osteopaths, physiotherapists and massage therapists since the 1940s. One of the most well known is physio John Barnes, who says ‘release of the pressure of the fascial system … creates a free mobile environment of [these] pain-sensitive structures, producing consistent results in relieving pain and restoring functional mobility.’
Does myofascial release work? This is a tricky question to answer. Complementary therapists, medical practitioners, researchers, academics, and clients around the world believe so. And there has been a number of scientific studies and clinical trials relating to myofascial release and the way in which the body responds to the techniques involved. But, for various reasons, these trials are not necessarily the sort of long-term, large-scale randomised controlled trials (RCTs) expected from pharmaceutical companies and such like. So current UK advertising rules prevent us from being able to claim that myofascial release works to treat specific conditions, no matter how strongly we believe it and no matter how much our clients attribute improvements in their conditions to myofascial release (see testimonials). However these studies and trials have demonstrated the effectiveness of myofascial release in alleviating plantar heel pain, pain from systemic sclerosis, and pain and other ‘quality of life’ problems associated with fibromyalgia. MFR has also been shown to be effective in increasing a range of shoulder movements, and in aiding heart and blood pressure recovery after high intensity exercise. And the research is growing daily.
Myofascial release has been described as ‘the medicine of the 21st century’ although more research is desperately needed to maximise what we believe is its potential.
For more information about clinical trials please see our regulation and research page.
The Pain Care Clinic specialises in myofascial release and advanced massage therapies for private clients with medical diagnoses of chronic pain conditions and acute pain or injuries. The information on these pages is intended to be general information only. If you are unsure about your own medical diagnosis or options for medical treatment then please consult a doctor.