Myofascial Release Therapy: Why it is Important Therapy to Know for Pain Relief and Return to Function
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August 13, 2019
By Dr. Barbara S. Rabin , DPT, ATC, PYT
“I know of no part of the body that equals the fascia as a hunting ground. All nerves go to and terminate in that great system, the fascia. By its action, we live and by its failure we die. The soul of the man, with all the streams of pure living water, seems to dwell in the fascia of his body.”
-A.T. Still, the Founder of Osteopathy
Myofascial Release Therapy in The John F. Barnes’ Myofascial Release Approach® is a healing, safe and effective hands-on manual therapy technique that is performed directly on the skin without oils or creams. The lack of oils or creams enables the therapist to accurately detect fascial restrictions and apply the appropriate amount of traction and gentle sustained pressure to facilitate release of those myofascial connective tissue restrictions.
The John F. Barnes’ Myofascial Release Approach® involves applying gentle sustained pressure into the myofascial connective tissue restrictions to eliminate pain and restore motion. This sustained pressure provides the essential “time element” and has to do with the viscous flow and the piezoelectric phenomenon;
a low load (gentle pressure) applied slowly
will allow a viscoelastic
medium (fascia) to
Think of an elastic rubber band that stretches only so far until it reaches a stopping point, as representing the elastic component of fascia. The collagenous part of the fascia starts where the rubber band ends. It requires a sustained low load, gentle sustained pressure to become released. Picture that stretched out rubber band being elongated for a longer time and causing a permanent elongation and opening. This unbinding and opening allows the fascial tissues to hydrate and unrestricted movement to return. If the therapist does not maintain the sustained hold of the fascia for three-five minutes, the permanent release of the restrictions might never happen and the fascia will remain constricted.
Myofascial restriction can be created by:
- Repetitive movement patterns
- Inflammatory responses
- Surgical procedures
These myofascial restrictions can produce tensile pressures of approximately
2,000 pounds per square inch
on pain-sensitive structures. These restrictions do not show up in many of the standard tests (x-rays,
myelograms, CAT scans, electromyography, etc.).
The John F. Barnes’ Myofascial Release Approach® allows assessment and treatment following the biopsychosocial health care model and sees each patient as a unique individual with a mind, body and soul. Therapists are trained to look at and assess the unique fabric of the individual that has formed as an adaption to life stressors. This fascial fabric of our body is a bio-tensegrity model that can be demonstrated by the child’s toy pictured below. This fascial fabric is a strong but flexible structure with interconnecting parts that form and reform according to need and load. Push on one area of the toy and another area is affected.
Likewise, working on a fascial restriction on one area of the body might be felt elsewhere as the fascial threads release and let go. Just like a thread on a sweater pulls on one area but affects the form of the whole sweater.
If you have performed surgery, cut up a fresh chicken or dissected a body in gross anatomy class for medical training, you might remember the fascia as a hard and annoying substance that “was in the way of the structures that we needed to see and identify.” But, today with the wonders of science and microscopy, we can see the beautiful fascia in its live functioning form as pictured below.
The amazing microtubules that are pervasive through all structures of the body are visible through microscopy.
Not only can we can see the fascia as a living and adaptable structure that provides our bio-tensegrity supportive framework, similar to the guide-wires on a tent, but we can amazingly see fluid moving through the tubules. The jury is still out as to what all the actual functions are of the tubules, but according to John F. Barnes and other scientists a theory exists that information in the form of light flows through the fascial system. It is theorized that the ground substance and structured (negatively ionized) water flowing through the microtubules is our primary form of communication or consciousness. This concept goes way beyond the scope of this introductory post of MFR but it is important to mention as the emerging science is exciting. The work of Dr. Gerald H. Pollack can provide some more insight into this proposed phenomenon.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the work of the French hand surgeon, Dr. Jean-Claude Guimberteau, M.D. who has produced fascinating movies and images of live fascia that you can see on his website HERE.
Science aside, for over 50 years, The John F. Barnes’ Myofascial Release Approach® has been found to be a wonderful healing modality that can decrease pain and improve function. Our body and minds are intuitive and can heal with the correct guidance which the therapist facilitates for the patient. The patient is not a passive participant but active in the treatment and healing process.
An MFR treatment can include a multitude of MFR techniques and movement therapy. Techniques such as rebounding, unwinding, traction, compression and deep pressure can be involved. Client independence is promoted through education in proper body mechanics and movement, self-treatment instruction, enhancement of strength, improved flexibility and postural and movement awareness. Self-myofascial release done by the client during a home program is very important to maintain any gains achieved during any sessions, to prevent further injury or pain and further increases independence.
For more information, I’ll refer you to my mentor and professor at the University of Miami School of Medicine – Physical Therapy Division, Dr. Carol Davis Click VIDEO 1 , VIDEO 2, VIDEO 3, VIDEO 4 to watch the series of talks on Facebook.
Humans are always becoming human, over time, embedded within a living, vibrating biotensegrity fascial web that supports and sustains life.
~ Carol M. Davis, DPT, EdD, MS, FAPTA