Myofascial release is a manual technique which may provide an effective means to treat fascial restrictions in the body.
Sustained gentle pressure is applied directly to the restricted area to allow the fascia to elongate naturally. Restriction in one part of the body may cause symptoms locally or further afield where other tissues are taking the strain. Imagine strongly pinching a sheet smoothed out flat on a bed - a 'knot' is formed at this point but you can see lines of 'tension' radiating out from that point. The areas of tension are felt by sensitive hands and followed so that it might be necessary to treat the feet even if a headache is the symptom. A number of other physical, hands on techniques may also be used.
Myofascial Release (MFR), as well as resolving physical trauma, may also help to release emotional trauma and has been described as the "missing link in health care" as it truly provides a holistic treatment. It is suitable for all ages and in pregnancy.
What is fascia ?
'Myo' means muscle and 'fascia' (pronounced fash-uh) means band. Fascia is a connective tissue: it is a 3 dimensional web which connects every part of our body and, when healthy, cushions, protects, stabilises and supports it. Fascia is probably most easily recognised as the tougher, shiney whitish tissue in a piece of meat. In this instance it serves to surround and seperate the individual muscles to allow them to glide smoothly over each other and also provide a protective route through which nerves and blood and lymphatic vessels can pass.
But fascia comes in different forms depending on the ratio of it's components: elastin, collagen and the ground substance. Collagen is a fibrous protein which provides strength and stability. Elastin, as the name suggests, is an elastic fibre, allowing the fascia to stretch to the full length of the collagen fibre but then springing back into shape while the collagen aims to prevent the fascia from being overstretched. The ground substance is jelly-like and is the substances in which the collagen and elastin, (plus the cells that make these 2 proteins) are embedded. It is 60-70% water and acts like a shock absorber and lubricates the fibres within it, allowing them to glide over each other. It also allows nutrients, oxygen, hormones, antibodies, etc to pass through it. Therefore if the ground substance is not healthy it will not be able to do it's jobs properly and effect the health of the cells within it.
So fascia can be tough, for example around the spine or directly under the skin (particularly noticeable in the palm of your hand or sole of your foot); or more like a cobweb, for example in and around the brain, organs, blood vessels and nerves. Fascia can be more jelly-like, typically found in the abdomen. The most recent definition of fascia includes tendons, ligaments and joint capsules; certain layers of bone, organs and the nervous system; the lining of the abdominal cavity and connective tissue in the lungs.
Fascia is ever changing, reacting to the demands our life experiences place on it. Injury, inflammation, repeated stresses and emotional trauma will all effect the fascia's pliability, sometimes causing adhesions.(GIl Hedley demonstrates this very well in his "Fuzz speech" on fascia and stretching.) This tension and restriction can exert excessive pressures within the body resulting in all kinds of symptoms. Fascial restrictions do not show up on scans so they are rarely diagnosed as the cause of chronic pain conditions. MFR can help to restore function and comfort to the body.
What symptoms can fascial restrictions cause?
The most common symptom is pain, usually over muscles and joints. However, as fascia is found throughout the body other areas can also be effected.
When fascia is injured the fibres shorten and become twisted like a corkscrew. It becomes more solid and starts to stick to surrounding structures. Over time this tightnes spreads through the system creating abnormal strain on joints and causing them to become abnormally compressed or pulled out of normal alignment. This in turn causes pain or effects how that joint or joints and that part of the body can function. So, for example, a joint might become stiff or painful, breathing may be effected if the ribs can't move freely or the ribcage is distorted slightly. The pelvis might become "twisted" leading to altered curves of the spine. Neural, vascular and lymphatic structures can become compressed or trapped in these adhesions and restrictions contributing to neurological, ischaemic or lymphatic issues. Organs may be put under altered pressures causing problems with, for eg, digestive or reproductive systems.
We cannot go throughout life without having some kind of injury to the fascia. Once restrictions are there the body cannot absorb and disperse the forces from further trauma as efficiently as it used to. Symptoms are then felt when the body reaches a point when it is findiing it difficult to compensate for the restrictions. This is why pain might come on "without any cause" - it's actually a result of an accumulation of previous injuries. Flexibility and spontaneity of movement reduces, setting up the body for more trauma, pain and limitation of movement. It is hard work living with a biomechanically inefficient body so activities become more of an effort and fatigue can set in as more energy is required to do things.
References and bibliograpy
The John F Barnes Myofascial Release Approach part 2. Massage Magazine June 2007. John F Barnes P.T