Myofascial release

Synonyms

Acutherapy, myotherapy, MFR therapy, soft tissue mobilization.

Background

Myofascial release involves a gentle form of stretching and compression. The therapy, also known as soft tissue mobilization or MFR, releases the uneven tightness in injured fascia. Fascia is the dense, tough tissue that surrounds and covers the body's organs, muscles and bones.

In the normal healthy state the fascia is relaxed and soft, and it can stretch without restriction. However, following physical trauma or inflammation, fascia loses its pliability, and it becomes a sense of tension throughout the body.

Myofascial release is different from massage, which focuses on muscles. This approach is thought to treat the causes of pain, not just the symptoms.

Myofascial release involves a gentle form of stretching and compression. The therapy, also known as soft tissue mobilization or MFR, releases the uneven tightness in injured fascia. Fascia is the dense, tough tissue that surrounds and covers the body's organs, muscles and bones.

In the normal healthy state the fascia is relaxed and soft, and it can stretch without restriction. However, following physical trauma or inflammation, fascia loses its pliability, and it becomes a sense of tension throughout the body.

Myofascial release is different from massage, which focuses on muscles. This approach is thought to treat the causes of pain, not just the symptoms.

Technique

Each MFR technique contains the same components. The physical therapist finds the area of tightness. A light stretch is applied to the tight area. The physical therapist waits for the tissue to relax and then increases the stretch. The process is repeated until the area is fully relaxed. Then, the next area is stretched.

The therapist is guided by feedback he feels from the patient's body. This feedback tells the therapist how much force to use, the direction of the stretch and how long to stretch. Small areas of muscle are stretched at a time. Sometimes the therapist uses only two fingers to stretch a small part of a muscle.

The therapist will be able to find sore spots just by feel. Often, patients are unable to pinpoint some sore spots or have grown used to them until the physical therapist finds them. The size and sensitivity of these sore spots, called myofascial trigger points, will decrease with treatment.

Overall, myofascial release is a gentle therapy. Some patients fall asleep during treatment or take a nap afterwards.

Physical therapists often practice myofascial release, but it may also be offered by osteopathic physicians, chiropractors, massage therapists, and others who are trained in this method.

Progress is measured by a decrease in the patient's pain and by an improvement in overall posture.

Theory/evidence

There is little scientific evidence to support MFR for medical conditions. However, one study found that myofascial release combined with electrical current improved pain and neck flexibility in people with neck and shoulder pain.

Myofascial release has been used to improve the health of the muscles and fascia, improve circulation and restore good posture. It has been used to treat back strain, chronic back pain, low back pain, thoracic back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic cervical pain, complex pain complaints, dizziness, vertigo, fibromyalgia, fibrositis, headache, myofascial pain dysfunction, plantar fasciitis, post polio symptoms, thoracic outlet syndrome, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction, trigger points, tender points, and whiplash.

Update Information

This information has been edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).


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