Myofascial Release – Let’s Unfold Its Effects on Controlling Pain

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Dr Sukanya Goswami
Sukanya has done BDS. She is a dentist, a blogger, an extrovert, and a travel enthusiast. She is also a spiritual believer. When she is not working, you can find her reading books.

Myofascial pain is an uncomfortable sensation that affects the muscles and fascia of the body. Although several procedures can treat myofascial pain, one among them is myofascial release. Myofascial release is a safe and most effective hand-on therapy that mainly involves sustained gentle pressure application on the myofascial connective tissue. The purpose of myofascial release is to eliminate the pain and restore motion of the affected part.

Typically, myofascial release focuses on improving muscle shortness and tightness in the back, neck, shoulders, hip, or any other area of the soft tissue. Some of the medical conditions treated by myofascial release include temporomandibular joint disorder, carpal turner syndrome, fibromyalgia, and migraine.

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Though the myofascial release is beneficial for relieving pain, stiffness, and tightness, it has some limitations as well. In cases of painful wounds, burns, injuries, fracture, deep vein thrombosis, and nerve damage, myofascial release may not be a suitable option. Today’s article will highlight the mechanism of myofascial release. Furthermore, we will discuss the benefits and limitations of myofascial release.

What is myofascial pain?

Myofascial pain, also termed as myofascial pain syndrome, is a chronic pain disorder that usually builds up pressure on the sensitive points in the muscles. Myofascial pain typically occurs when a muscle in the body has been repeatedly contracted due to continuous motion or stress-related muscle tension.

People with this condition may experience a dull aching pain in the muscles that persist or worsens over time. Often, such people also experience disturbed sleep. (1)

Usually, myofascial pain can be caused by tightening of the skeletal muscle or connective tissue. Additionally, damaged myofascial tissue may also act as a trigger restricting the blood flow and accentuating the contraction of the muscle.

What is myofascial release?

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Myofascial release is an alternative physical therapy that is used to treat myofascial pain syndrome. This technique primarily focuses on reducing pain and discomfort. Moreover, it soothes the tension and tightness of the affected muscle to restore mobility. (2)

Typically, in myofascial pain syndrome, it is challenging to locate the exact trigger point. Therefore, myofascial release is commonly used to cover a broad area of muscle and tissues.

What is the procedure for myofascial release?

Myofascial release is usually performed by physical therapists, chiropractors, and osteopaths. It takes place during a therapeutic massage session. The practitioner applies gentle pressure over the affected area of the body. (3)

Initially, the tightened muscles and fascia feels stiff, rigid, and firm. The massage aims to apply manual light pressure to stretch the muscles and make them more elastic or pliable. The process of releasing stress and tightness is repeated multiple times on the trigger points or affected area until the practitioner feels that the tension in the muscles is fully released. In some cases, the therapist may also use aids and devices such as cushioned rollers and straps to help release the tension from the muscles. (4)

Is myofascial release effective for pain reduction?

Every case of myofascial pain syndrome is unique, and the treatment differs from practitioner to practitioner. Myofascial release is considered an alternative therapy, and in some places, the doctor may not recommend it as the first line of treatment to reduce pain. Moreover, they may go with traditional therapies such as medication and physiotherapy.

However, despite the lack of medical support, myofascial release has proven to be the most effective and non-invasive approach in reducing muscle tension, tightness, and pain. It is best always to consult your doctor or therapist and select the best suitable treatment for your condition. (5)

Who benefits from myofascial release?

As mentioned above, myofascial release is best used to treat myofascial pain syndrome. Additionally, people with chronic headaches and migraines may also benefit from myofascial release. In such situations, the muscles of the neck and head are massaged to reduce headaches. Other conditions that may be benefited by myofascial release include –

  • Temporomandibular joint disorder
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Carpal turner syndrome (6)

Myofascial release also helps to improve the blood flow to the muscles. Therefore, it is used in conjunction with other treatments to treat conditions that cause pooling of the blood due to venous insufficiency.

What are the risks associated with myofascial release?

Typically, myofascial release aims at easing the pain and restoring the motility of the affected part of the body. However, it may be associated with a few risks. Some of the non-ideal cases of the myofascial release include –

  • People with burns, injury or painful wounds
  • Broken or fractured bones
  • Weak and fragile bones (7)
  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • People who are under blood-thinning medication

Such cases should be avoided for myofascial release as it may lead to internal bleeding, temporary paralysis, and nerve damage. Moreover, the essential oils used in the myofascial release may cause allergic reactions to some patients.

Take away message

Myofascial release is a safe and non-invasive alternative physical therapy that is performed to treat myofascial pain syndrome – a disorder that causes pain, tightness, and stiffness of the skeletal muscles and connective tissue.

Usually, it is performed by a physical therapist, chiropractor, or osteopath by applying gentle pressure on the affected area. The massage therapy helps to release the tension from the muscles, improves the blood flow, and stretches the muscles making it more elastic and pliable.

Usually, people with fibromyalgia, chronic headaches, and temporomandibular joint disorders benefit from myofascial release. Cases of painful wounds, burns, and injuries that may cause fractured or broken bones may not be ideal for myofascial release. It is best always to consult your therapist and weigh your options to select the best treatment for your condition.

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