What is fascia and Myofascial Release?
In order to understand what Myofascial Release is and how it can benefit you, it is first important to have a basic understanding of what fascia is. Fascia is strong connective tissue which performs a number of functions including enveloping and isolating the muscles of the body, providing structural support and protection. It is a product of Mesenchyme; a type of connective tissue which develops in embryos before differentiating into numerous other structures in the body. Mesechyme also forms the foundation for bone, cartilage, and important components of the circulatory and lymphatic systems. Fascia is a very important part of the body, and it has three layers starting with the superficial fascia directly under the skin and ending with subserous fascia, deep inside the body.
Fascia is thin but very fibrous and strong. Anyone who has skinned chicken breasts or trimmed meat has encountered fascia, the whitish colored thin sheets of tissue between the skin and muscle of the meat. Fascia forms directly under the skin and serves as a strong layer of connective tissue between the skin and muscles underneath it.
The top layer of fascia is superficial fascia which may be mixed with varying amounts of fat, depending on where it is on the body. The skull and hands have a particularly noticeable layer of superficial fascia which connects the skin to the tissues and bone underneath it. By wriggling your scalp you can see that superficial fascia is strong but flexible, keeping the skin firmly anchored while allowing its owner to move freely.
Underneath the superficial fascia, lies deep fascia; a much more densely packed and strong layer of fascia. Deep fascia covers the muscles in connective tissue aggregations which help to keep the muscles divided and protected. On occasion, this fascia can create tight knots or connective adhesion which act as trigger points which can cause pain. A variety of treatments including Myofascial Release and stretching are used to treat this condition which can be debilitating and extremely painful. If a patient is diagnosed with a condition like Myofascial Pain Syndrome, it may be useful to know that the term Myofascial means “fascia related to the muscles” and that these conditions do not necessarily involve the superficial and subserous fascia.
The subserous fascia lies between deep fascia and major organs of the body. It is more flexible than deep fascia and the body leaves space around it so that the organs can move freely. Like deep fascia, subserous fascia can also form fibrous knots and adhesions which can be painful unless they are addressed.
Myofascial Release is a type of soft tissue massage which incorporates stretching and massage of the connective tissues, or fascia. Myofascial Release began to be a popular form of massage therapy in the late 1990s, when patients realized the potential for pain management and increased flexibility that Myofascial Release offered. Like other forms of Massage Therapy, there are a number of schools which offer certification in Myofascial Release. Massage students are expected to log a set number of classroom, textbook and practice hours before they are certified.
Myofascial Release usually begins with a gentle massage which is designed to warm and loosen muscles. As the therapist works, he or she identifies areas of tension which require further attention and will return to those areas to stretch and work the fascia. Sometimes Myofascial Release can be quite intense, especially in the case of muscles which are holding a great deal of tension and stress. After the session, some clients experience slight stiffness and soreness which will usually vanish over the next few days, leaving behind a sense of well-being.
Myofascial Release operates on the principle that many people hold stress in their muscles, which causes the muscles to seize or lock. This is exacerbated by muscle injury and scarring. Myofascial Release aims to access these areas of blockage and tension to release them, thereby freeing up the muscle and allowing it to move more easily and effectively.
During Myofascial Release, the client may be manipulated in a wide variety of poses or the Massage Therapist may only stretch a muscle in a small way using a few fingers to get deep into the muscle and pull it into a beneficial stretch. Breathing in conjunction with the stretches is advised for maximum comfort and benefit.
In patients with fibromyalgia, back pain and other muscle-associated health issues, Myofascial Release can be highly beneficial. For this reason, some doctors prescribe Myofascial Release in conjunction with other forms of therapy to give patients a greater range of options. Myofascial Release is frequently incorporated into pain management plans, and patients often feel positive effects after only a few sessions.
Regular Myofascial Release can improve posture, ease areas of muscle soreness, and improve flexibility. Like any course of Massage Therapy, patients should consult a doctor before embarking on a Myofascial Release program to avoid conflicts with medical conditions or other treatment.