What is Myofascial Release in Physical Therapy?

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Myofascial release is a buzz word that is often heard in the worlds of physical therapy, chiropractic, massage therapy, and more.  While most people know that there are some massage techniques involved in myofascial restriction, most people don’t know exactly what it is, what it can treat, and how it is implemented.  Many people believe that there is a “No pain, no gain” mentality with manual therapy in physical therapy sessions, however myofascial release is generally an extremely mild and gentle form of stretching that has a profound effect upon the body tissues.

Fascia is also known as connective tissue. It is a system of the body that is collagenous and elastic.  It is a continuous laminated sheet of tissue that extends without interruption from the top of the head to the tip of the toes; it surrounds and invades every other tissue and organ of the body including nerves, vessels, muscle and bone.

Because fascia permeates all regions of the body and is all interconnected, when it scars and hardens in one area, it puts tension and thus pain on other areas of the body that are close to a fascial restriction.  Scarring and hardening of fascia in a region of the body can be secondary to traumatic injury, inflammation, and disease.  It is almost always an issue that should be addressed after surgery.  Some people have bizarre pain symptoms that appear to be unrelated to the original injury site, but if you find a physical therapist who treats myofascial restrictions, it is possible to identify and use myofascial release to treat most patients who walk through the door.

Muscle provides the greatest bulk for the body’s soft tissue and it is also one of the most important body systems that physical therapists treat.  Because of this, the first step is to identify which muscle’s fascia is dragging on and causing the primary pain complaint.  A good example that might resonate with some people is chronic low back pain; even though the low back is the primary complaint, it may be painful because of a gradual tightening of muscles and fascia at the neck which is pulling all the way down the spine.

A key to success with myofascial release treatment is for the physical therapist to keep the pressure and stretch mild.  Most people who have had physical therapy associate the manual therapy as painful because the physical therapist is directly treating the muscle and muscle tissue responds to firm stretch and pressure.  Fascia is different and is thinner but also extremely strong.  However, research has shown that a small amount of pressure held over time will help the fascia soften and release the pull.  In general, acute cases will resolve with a few treatments but the longer the problem has been present, the longer it will take to resolve the problem.

Like other physical therapy techniques, myofascial release will be partnered with an exercise plan including stretches, range of motion exercises, and strengthening.  If there is a painful condition, injury, or post-surgical rehabilitation that you are experiencing and it is not getting better with other forms of physical therapy or treatment, find a physical therapist that treats myofascial restrictions, like the physical therapists at Compleat Rehab.

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Ariana Legatie
Ariana Legatie graduated from Virginia Tech in 2009 with a BS in Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise and later received her Doctorate of Physical Therapy from Marymount University in Arlington, VA in 2013. Since then, Ariana has worked in two different outpatient orthopedics clinics in Washington, DC treating a variety of musculoskeletal dysfunctions. She has specialized in and developed a program for Women's Health/Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy and has experience with hypermobile patients, including Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. Her treatment approach consists of various manual techniques as well as emphasis on core stabilization in order to improve her patients' mobility, function, and quality of life. Ariana recently moved to the Charlotte area and started working with Compleat Rehab and Sports Therapy in Mint Hill, NC.