Myofascial Release 101

Myofascial release has been a hot topic in the fitness industry for the past couple of years. Personally, I am not trained in myofascial release, but I thought it would be something my readers might want to know more about, so I did some research. That being said, a lot of the content here will be the ideas or beliefs of others and I will link to their websites for you to read further.

What is myofascial release?

To understand myofascial release, you must first understand fascia.

Fascia

According to John F. Barnes, PT:

“Fascia is a specialized system of the body that has an appearance similar to a spider’s web or a sweater. Fascia is very densely woven, covering and interpenetrating every muscle, bone, nerve, artery and vein, as well as, all of our internal organs including the heart, lungs, brain and spinal cord. The most interesting aspect of the fascial system is that it is not just a system of separate coverings. It is actually one continuous structure that exists from head to toe without interruption. In this way you can begin to see that each part of the entire body is connected to every other part by the fascia, like the yarn in a sweater.”

Let’s imagine an example of a hamstring injury in high school. At some point in high school, you injured your hamstring. In order to allow it to heal, the fascia created an adhesion to another nearby muscle. It then recruited that muscle to do the work of the injured hamstring. So any time a message was sent to that hamstring to work, the call to action was deferred and passed on to the neighboring muscle. Time passed, your hamstring healed, but unless someone or something went in to break up that connection, it remained. Now, in present day, you’re having an issue (maybe with your knee or hip), and it could be that the cause of your pain today is the fascia connection from that injury in high school.

Myofascial release

Myofascial release is the release of fascial adhesions. Through time and with injuries, fascia loses its supple, pliable state. Instead, it starts to become tensile. So, instead of it going with the flow, it becomes stiff as a board. However, in this case, our board contains collagen fibers, which are literally as strong as steel.

Imagine how your day would be if your shirt or pants all of a sudden lost their pliability and became steel-like instead.

Who does myofascial release?

Great news! Apparently, anyone and everyone can do myofascial release. Massage therapists, physical therapists, and trained personal trainers are all great resources. However, it is possible for you to do myofascial release on your own. All you have to do is learn what to do and be mindful while you do it.

What tools perform myofascial release?

myofascial releaseThis is the controversial topic. Let’s start with what we know for sure. Massage therapists will use their hands to perform myofascial release. Trained hands can feel the adhesions and release them.

Now, many people will tell you that you can use foam rollers, tennis balls, and lacrosse balls for myofascial release. Based on my research, I’m not entirely sure this is true. This paragraph from Tom Myers is the main reason why.

“Big heavy sheets of fascia – the iliotibial band, the thoracolumbar fascia, the plantar fascia – cannot be ‘lengthened’ through foam rolling, so please don’t say that to your clients or even think it for yourself. A foam-rolled foot can feel better and more alive and have reduced inflammation maybe (often only temporarily), but if walking on it thousands of steps a day hasn’t lengthened it, a few swipes on a foam roller ain’t gonna do it either. You can increase hydration, increase sensation, and maybe ‘melt’ some of the fascial bonding on the edges to give it more movement freedom, but the pressure required to get a significant change on overall length would send the client screaming – rightfully – for the door. This is math, not opinion.”

It seems to me that tools like foam rollers, tennis balls, and lacrosse balls can be helpful in relieving some of the pain caused by fascial adhesions, but I’m skeptical about whether they will provide a full release. Because of my belief that these tools may relieve pain and restore some function to the area targeted, I’m going to explore myofascial release with these tools in the upcoming weeks.

If you would like more information about fascia, you can read this Yoga International article.

Are there any other self myofascial release tools or tricks that you know? Share with the group in the comments section below.

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Sarah Stockett is STOTT certified in Matwork, Reformer, Cadillac, Chair, & Barrels, Injuries & Special Populations, and CORE; a Yoga Alliance RYT-200; and has studied Active Isolated Stretching. When she is not trying to discover the best exercises to get rid of pain, she likes watching movies and travelling with her family.

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