Myofascial Release

What is Myofascial Release?

John F. Barnes, PT developed a method of relieving long term pain patterns that tended to invade surrounding and far reaching regions of the body. MFR techniques usually begin with light compression, followed by decompression. The therapist sustains pressure and follows any motion that occurs three-dimensionally as the surrounding myofascial environment releases and eliminates or reduces the bracing or holding patterns in the subconscious tissue memory. MFR techniques are safe and highly effective in reducing pain and restoring motion and optimal function on a long term basis treating the entire Myofascial complex.1

What is fascia?

To better understand MFR you first need to understand fascia. Your fascial system is frequently overlooked. John F. Barnes, PT stated that during dissection seminars in medical school they were instructed to cut back the layers of fascia so that the body could be studied. Never giving credit to this important body system left healthcare professionals at a disadvantage for providing benefits to those who sought their help. John Barnes, trying to recover from a serious injury was failing to make the progress he hoped for and consequently found himself debilitated and in a great deal of pain. Through his own training, he began to explore the fascial system and there found the root of his pain and dysfunction. From this experience, he developed what we know today as Myofascial Release.

The fascia surrounds all body cells, becomes the cells and structures of our bodies. Fascia directs our body’s inner oceans, surrounds everything and becomes everything.2 In short there is nothing in our body that is not connected by fascia. John Barnes goes a step further to say that we do not have organs, bones or muscles. These parts of our bodies are highly specialized fascia.3 In layman’s terms, Fascia is a complex connective tissue that runs through our bodies from head to toe, front to back and side to side. Our bodies are held together by fascia. It is estimated that fascial adhesions pull on our structures at a rate of 2000 lbs. per square inch. Your muscles are left to counter-balance that pull. Muscles fatigue quickly and give rise to structural imbalances, dysfunction, pain and far reaching functional compensations. These compensations after a short time become their own dysfunctions and snow-ball the effect. Injuries rarely stay local. In fact frequently the first symptom a person will feel from an infraction to the body is the compensation turned to dysfunction elsewhere in the body. Hence, the therapist’s common training thought, “find the pain and look elsewhere for the dysfunction”. The pain is rarely in the area of the actual problem, although, both areas need treatment.

Image – John F. Barnes, PT,

Connective tissues of the body contain Elastin, Collagen and ground substance. The elastin fibers allow for our elastic expansion and rebounding effects in the body. They will tend to relax and change very quickly in response to bodywork or self stretching techniques but offers only temporary change. Collagen offers tensile strength to the tissues and can withstand 10,000 times is own weight in tension. Collagen requires a minimum of 2-5 minutes for release but elicits a more permanent change in the tissues. Ground substance is the fluid component of our tissues that holds everything in place and lubricates all fibers for movement. When cold, ground substance is like jell-o and permits little movement. When warmed, movement is allowed freely. The collagen fibers wrap around the elastin fibers and are suspended in ground substance. First the ground substance must turn from gel to liquid (thixotropy), then the elastin needs to elongate (2-5 minutes) and then the collagen can begin to lengthen. The collagen movement is the key element in releasing fascial adhesions breaking apart and unwinding both local and distant areas.

What should I expect from a treatment?

Although highly effective, you begin to see that MFR therapies are slow paced and take time to facilitate. Remember, it took longer than an hour to get the way you are, it takes longer than an hour to remediate. Generally speaking, you can expect to feel different after the first session even if you can’t put a finger on exactly what it is that feels different. The second session usually gives rise to more notable improvement and by the third appointment you should be able to identify specific changes. We cannot as therapists or patients place specific expectations on what the outcome might be. Our bodies know better than our brains what inherently is wrong and will seek to change those areas. We are aware only of the symptoms we feel. It is likely that you will notice changes you weren’t looking for in areas not even touched during the MFR session. Just be aware of your body and any changes that occur. It is truly amazing what you might notice.

During a MFR session, the therapist should be aware of all movement within your body and will follow it as it unwinds. Your body will tell the therapist where and how they should treat. Because every situation is different, there is no specific routine and you expect only a portion of the body to be directly touched during any given session. Know that the entire body is being treated even if the therapist touches only the head or the feet. When a pull on the head is offered, it connects to the feet and everything in between. The body will unravel it’s dysfunctions in a prioritized order. Be patient and trust your body’s self knowledge. God designed us that way.

Memories associated with the original insult to the tissues will tend to store in a holding pattern in that area facilitating the dysfunction. During a MFR session, those memories will begin to release. It is necessary for you as the patient to be present with these changes and be willing to let them go or the body will not be ready to let go of the holding patterns. Know that you are in a safe place. Tears, vocalizations and other spontaneous body movements are natural and necessary to heal. You may not be aware of why you feel a certain way or why your body feels the need to move in a certain pattern. Just trust your body to take over and know that it will never injure itself as you re-experience a memory, consciously or unconsciously. The safer you feel, the more aware you are and the more your trust your body, the greater the effect you will experience.

MFR is applied without lubricant and only a gentle touch is used as compression and tension is applied to the tissues. Blocks and supports may be placed under the body to allow gravity to do some of the work. Your body will realign itself in much the same manner it became misaligned if put in the proper position to do so. This is soft tissue manipulation but not traditional Swedish massage work.

What is Tensegrity?

Tensegrity model

Tensegrity is a term used to describe a structure that is held in place by spacers and tension ropes. When one area of the structure is shifted, the entire structure must shift to compensate or it will fall down. Halyards of a sail boat are held up as a tensegrity model, as are round domes, Chinese finger cuffs and the human body. Think of a sweater with a pull in one thread. Usually you will see far reaching effects from that one pull. Your body works very much the same way.

Will Myofascial Release hurt?

MFR therapies should not cause pain. Generally the touch is very gentle and consists of long sustained holds or pulls. Some more aggressive soft tissue releases become necessary if the fascial sheaths are so adhered that they don’t respond to normal techniques. MFR is a preferred therapy when the client is in pain because it does not aggravate sensory nerve receptors. If more aggressive soft tissue manipulations are necessary, the therapist should work with the client to avoid extreme pain situations. Communication is very important always.

What do I wear?

Because MFR requires a lot of movement that is not traditional to massage work, the client is usually clothed in a bathing suit (two pieces for ladies) or underwear. The less a client is wearing but still modest the better. Your therapist will need to be able to assess the structures of your body visually and by palpation. Access to as much of the body surface as possible is necessary as the surface of the body is used to manipulate the inner structures.

Why do I need a consultation before treatment?

Frequently the client just wants to get out of pain. “Just fix it”. They have tried everything and it just doesn’t work. When you go to a doctor, he looks in your ears before diagnosing you with an ear infection and prescribing antibiotics. He will send you in for diagnostic tests before performing any medical procedure. Before any bodywork is applied to a client, it is prudent to first assess the situation. The therapist needs to identify postural shifts in the body and any skin pulls, body torsions and compressions or obscure signs. It is always uncomfortable to be looked at by a critical eye but necessary in order to set treatment plans and reach a desired goal. You will be asked to stand in front of a grid to assess symmetry. Pictures will be taken from front, back and both sides to be used as a before and after comparison and for more detailed assessment. Sometimes it is necessary to look more than once, important details could be missed. You will be clothed in a bathing suit or sports bra and pants during this process to protect your modesty. Know that these pictures are protected by privacy laws and are not published or shared without consent.

When should I start MFR session?

It is always best to stop pain and dysfunction before it happens. As soon as possible is the best response. Birth is the very first trauma your body experienced. Some more than others but we all add to that trauma daily to some extent, most of the time just by ignoring the injury assuming it to be necessary and normal. It is normal to experience injury but not necessary to live with complications. The quicker you seek help, the sooner you will experience relief. Everyone has experienced falls when they were learning to walk or ride a bike. When we have surgeries or lacerations to the body, no matter how small, they leave scaring that travels deep into the body. Most of our scars we can’t see and it is easy to assume there are none when we can’t see them. “Out of sight, out of mind”. Truthfully, our bodies are more scared inside than out. We see those scars as symptoms usually far after the insult has occurred. Multiple sessions are required to gain tangible results and should be scheduled close to each other to avoid back slips in progress. Ask your therapist for more information.

1 Fascial-Pelvis Myofascial release, John Barnes Seminar

2 Sean Reihl, Myofascial Release Real Bodywork

3 MFR 1 John F. Barnes, PT seminar