What Is Myofascial Release Massage?
When and Where Was Myofascial Release Massage Developed?
Myofascial Release Massage grew out of the field of Osteopathic Medicine around the end of the 19th century. A person with a degree in Osteopathic Medicine is a licensed physician equivalent to an M.D. in the United States, plus extra training specific to Osteopathy.
Andrew Taylor Still (1828-1917) developed the field of Osteopathic Medicine as a way of rejecting the traditional (allopathic) medicinal approach which used chemicals (medicines) and surgeries to treat illnesses. He observed that the use of harmful chemicals such as arsenic along with unsanitary practices tended to do more harm than good. It was his belief that instead of treating the symptoms of a disease that physicians should seek out the source of the disfunction and resolve it. Furthermore, he believed that preventative medicine was key to maintaining health by preventing the onset of disease.
Still believed that the source of ailments was related to the musculoskeletal system, and that by correcting these issues health could be maintained or restored. The word “osteopathy” was coined from two Greek words: osteon meaning bone and pathos meaning suffering.
Fast forward to the mid-20th century where other physicians who were concerned with finding the source of symptoms of illness also looked to the musculoskeletal system. Dr. Janet Travell (1901-1997) discovered the existence of myofascial trigger points in muscles, which are small areas within a muscle that are stuck in contraction and cause referred pain elsewhere in the body. Her contemporary, Ida Rolf, simultaneously developed a technique known as Structural Integration (also referred to as “Rolfing”) which uses the technique of manipulating the layers of fascia (connective tissue that runs throughout the body) to counteract the effect of poor posture and gravity and “reset” it to its correct state. The Rolf Institute is still active today.
Perhaps the best-known current day myofascial practitioner is John F. Barnes who developed the technique known as “Myofascial Release.” His technique focuses on the piezoelectric phenomenon of fascia which employs a gentle sustained load to be placed on the fascia to allow it to elongate.
Pressure and Technique in Myofascial Release Massage
Myofascial Release Massage generally uses light to moderate pressure to gently stretch fascia that has become constricted and is limiting movement. Fascia is the web-like connective tissue that holds our bodies together. It is comprised of collagen (structural protein), elastin (flexible/elastic protein), and fluid. Due to its unique composition, fascia helps us maintain our structure and keep our organs in place while still allowing us to flex and bend.
The technique is a varied combination of methods for moving the myofascial layers, beginning with the uppermost superficial layers and progressively getting deeper as the client’s body allows. Typically, the massage begins with the massage therapist using the hands to perform gentle skin tugging that frees up the most superficial layers of fascia near the skin. Once these layers are moving freely, the massage therapist may opt to use knuckles or forearm to access deeper lying tissues.
Since the work is done in layers, the technique is usually very comfortable even though the work may progress to very deep tissues in some areas of the body using a great deal of pressure. Again, this is dependent upon how well the client’s body is releasing and whether or not deeper pressure is required.
Why Myofascial Release Massage Massage Works
The body’s fascia is believed to be a single, continuous sheet that is set up as we develop in utero. Since all of the body’s structures are connected by fascia, restriction in one area can cause limitations in free movement throughout the body. Even when a client’s body is very restricted, working with the superficial layers of fascia, the effects can be quite deep.
Myofascial Release Massage helps rehydrate dehydrated areas of fascia. Dehydrated fascia tends to become stuck and adhesions form, holding the fascia in place. By gently releasing adhesions and encouraging circulation of fluid to the dehydrated fascia, Myofascial Release Massage is able to encourage healing and realignment of tissues.
A client who has had Myofascial Release Massage can expect to experience a better range of motion and reduced pain.
What Conditions Can be Treated with Myofascial Release Massage?
Myofascial Release Massage can be effective in treating almost any condition, including:
- Neck Pain
- Back Pain
- Hip Pain
- Pain Caused by Chronic Stress
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Chronic Pain
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)
- Spinal Curvatures (Kyphosis / Scoliosis)
- Frozen Shoulder
- Constipation / Diarrhea
- Sports Injuries
- Trauma (Accidents, Abuse, Surgery, Dental Work)
- Traumatic Spinal Injuries
- Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ/TMJD)
- Emotional Issues
- Optical Problems
- Tinnitus (Ringing in the ears)
- Asperger Syndrome (Aspberger)
- Cerebral Palsy
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Strokes (with consent of physician)
- Ear Infections
Who Should Not Get Myofascial Release Massage?
Myofascial Release Massage is not recommended for people who have a malignancy, cellulitis (meaning an infection, cellulite is fine), aneurysm, open wounds, obstructive edema, healing bone fractures, or contagious diseases including colds.
How Myofascial Release Massage is Performed
Myofascial Release Massage is usually performed on a massage table with sheets, but can be done on a chair or the floor if it is comfortable for client and therapist. The client may choose to undress fully or remain in underwear. Clients who are undressed or partially clothed will be covered with sheets just like in a Swedish massage.
Unlike many other forms of massage which use oils or creams, myofascial massage typically uses little to no lubricant except when the tissues are flushed following work on an area. Flushing is done by pushing tissues (and fluids underneath) in the direction of the heart. The strokes are long and fluid, so lubricant such as oil or cream may be used for this. During the rest of the massage, however, it is desirable for the skin to drag under the therapists hands so that the fascia can be engaged. If oil or cream are used, the therapist’s hands will simply glide over the tissues and this does not produce the desired result.