man with neck and back pain

Benefits of Myofascial Release Therapy: Does It Work?

Feeling sore or tight is common after going to the gym or doing manual labor, but if you are constantly in pain without relief it can be tiring. You might have tried cortisone shots, painkillers, stretching at home, maybe even a massage gun, but what happens when none of it helps chronic pain?

Myofascial release therapy (MRT) may be the answer you’ve been searching for. This safe hands-on therapeutic technique has started growing in popularity among professionals and physical therapists due to its potential for relieving and preventing chronic pain as well as improving flexibility and athletic performance.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, “Myo” is in reference to muscular tissue, while “fascia” is a three-dimensional web of connective tissue moving from the superficial layers of muscular tissue to the very deep layers through to the bone.

When your myofascial tissue is not as it should be, your range of motion reduces, and pain can be felt. Although you may only have a tight neck or back now, eventually this can lead to something much worse.

What is Myofascial Release Therapy and How it Works

Myofascial release is a manual therapy technique. It is often used in massage when the focus is relieving pain. Myofascial tissues are the tough membranes surrounding and connecting muscles believed to cause certain types of pain. Differing from other types of pain, myofascial pain originates in specific trigger points. Usually, these trigger points are found in stiff, anchored areas in the myofascial tissue.

During a myofascial release therapy session, the therapist will locate areas that feel stiff and cause pain, as well as those that restrict muscle and joint movements. This restriction of movement is what contributes to widespread muscle pain. Using focused manual pressure and stretching, myofascial release therapy is often able to loosen restricted movements which eventually lead to reduced pain.

Areas of the Body Myofascial Release Can Help

As a technique utilized to manage pain, myofascial release is great for parts of the body that often stay in fixed positions for longer than average periods of time. For example, this might include the neck and shoulders, but also the arms, head, lower back, and hips, as well as the jaw, quads, calves, and feet.

human body consisting of lines and points

Advantages of Myofascial Release Therapy

As we referenced above, myofascial release can have a range of benefits. In addition to helping manage and reduce pain, it can:

  • Improve range of motion and muscle function
  • Reduce soreness especially after intense work outs or exercise
  • Help to assist in the tissue recovery process
  • Help the body relax
  • Lead to better circulation in the body
  • Reduce knots and stress while releasing tension

Myofascial Release vs Massage

Massage is the act of stroking and kneading on the body, usually with the use of lubricants. This makes it easy for the therapist to move over the receiver's body. Massages are helpful for ordinary pain and daily stresses. They usually last 30 to 60 minutes.

Although myofascial release is a form of massage, it is a bit different. Rather than arriving at a session to fully relax and listen to music, you should expect a bit more of an intense experience. Usually, myofascial release is performed by a physical therapist, chiropractor, or massage therapist with the intent of releasing pain and tension from your muscles. The therapist will put pressure on a target area for three to five minutes at a time. Steady pressure is used in order to soften the fibers. There is usually no lubricant used, in order to release stricted areas of connective tissue.

You should expect your therapy to massage, knead and stretch your muscles that have pain. They will work into the fascia to push out knots. Also known as a bodywork technique, it involves applying pressure as well. Sometimes this pressure is applied with the hands, but they may also use elbows or a massage tool to get in deep. The next day you may feel some soreness, but after it is gone you should hopefully feel loose and with less pain.

Who Benefits From Myofascial Release Therapy?

There are many people who can benefit from this form of therapy, however, patients with myofascial pain syndrome will benefit the most from this type of treatment. Additionally, patients who suffer from chronic migraine headaches may also find relief from myofascial release therapy.

In instances of venous insufficiency, where blood pools in the deep veins of the leg, myofascial release therapy has been found to be helpful. This is because the pain felt during venous insufficiency stretches the veins, which can eventually cause damage leading to pain. By using myofascial release therapy it is possible to reduce the pooling and pain caused by venous insufficiency.

In some instances, patients might seek myofascial treatment after losing flexibility or function due to an injury. The same can be said for those experiencing chronic pain in any area containing soft tissue.

Other conditions treated by myofascial release therapy might include:

  • Temporo-Mandibular Joint (TMJ) disorder
  • Neck and back pain
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Spinal injuries and bulging discs
  • Arthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Migraines and headaches

Some of the symptoms warranting the use of myofascial release therapy can include:

  • Tight tissues that restrict range of motion
  • Tightness that pulls the body out of alignment
  • Pain that causes an individual to favor or overuse one hip/shoulder
  • Pressure on muscles or joints producing pain
  • Pain throughout the body

Getting Started With Myofascial Release

Most patients needing myofascial release obtain therapy with a professional. If this is not something you can afford, or feel comfortable doing at first, you can attempt to do so on your own. It is quite easy to find basic myofascial release techniques that you can do at home all over the internet.

woman using a foam roller doing myofascial release therapy

Myofascial Release Tools

There are plenty of tools you can use to aid with myofascial release. When starting, you might consider using a tennis ball. This can aid you in rolling out your muscles or focusing on tight spots. You can then move to something a bit harder.

One common tool used in myofascial release therapy is a foam roller. Although you may have tried foam rolling before, you need to realize that myofascial release is more than sitting on a foam roller. True myofascial release requires intention and focus.

While foam rolling, if you find a spot with some tension or tightness you should work on it. It is good to note that the areas around may also be causing pain that you need to address as well. If this is not something you feel you can do on your own, you can choose to work with a physical therapist, chiropractor or massage therapist to relieve your pain.

Be Patient and Keep At It

Myofascial release requires consistency, meaning one session may not end your pain. Your pain is accumulative, meaning your treatment must be as well. In many instances, you may need to practice myofascial release every day. Whether or not you have pain, your joints are constantly making an impact. By focusing on the areas that are tight, you can soothe the pain with consistency, as well as practice preventative medicine for those without pain. Even five minutes a day can make a difference.

Are There Any Risks with Myofascial Release?

Because myofascial release is a form of massage therapy, there are little to no risks. However, massage is not appropriate for everyone, including those who are taking blood-thinning medications, or suffer from the following:

  • Burns or open wounds
  • Injuries
  • Fractured, weak or broken bones
  • Deep vein thrombosis or deep vein issues
  • Although rare, myofascial release can technically cause:
  • Internal bleeding
  • Temporary paralysis
  • Difficulty moving your muscles
  • Nerve damage

When to Stop Practicing Myofascial Release

Myofascial release is something that should be done only to relieve pain. If you are causing yourself pain then you are not practicing it correctly. If you feel any form of sharp, shooting pain that does not stop, you should stop practicing myofascial release. If this pain persists you should contact a professional for advice.

Improving Your Quality of Life

As a former U.S. Navy SEAL and CIA Contractor, I know from my own personal experience how debilitating chronic pain can be but I have also come to realize the amazing healing potential and benefits of myofascial release therapy to get you back on your feet.

I also know the potential damage that traditional prescription pain medications can have on the body and the need for a better solution. That’s why at Easy Day, I’ve made it our mission to spread the knowledge and benefits of natural solutions that can improve the quality of life to all of those in need.

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