Myofascial Release Therapy
Myofascial Release is a technique that has been developed extensively in the US by John F Barnes over a period of more than 50 years. It followed the discovery that the body’s fascia, or connective tissue, plays a much more crucial role in health and well-being than previously thought.
Fascia is a fibro-elastic connective tissue that forms a 3D continuous network that supports, protects, separates and interweaves all other structures of the human body right down to the cellular level. Muscle, bone and their fascial binding (myofascia) are functionally linked, providing contour and movement to the body. In its normal state, fascia is elastic and very strong. However, when physical or emotional trauma occurs (as it can throughout our lives), fascia will harden, thicken, tighten and become dehydrated. Then its inherent strength, together with a lack of elasticity, acts to immobilise whatever it surrounds, preventing normal function. It is often restriction in the fascia that causes pain, both in itself and the structures it surrounds. And because fascia is entirely continuous throughout the body, a restriction in one part will affect every other part.
Here is a short video showing in vivo (ie living) fascia inside someone’s forearm. The fascial strands are normally bathed by liquid, which doesn’t show up in the footage. It’s pretty amazing though.
Myofascial problems can be caused by trauma (physical or emotional), inflammation, scar tissue, stress or surgery.
There is a good video which explains the ‘tensegrity’ of the body made by Thomas Myers (who developed the ‘Anatomy Trains’ model), which Joanna particularly loves as it combines two of her favourite interests, sailing and the body! Watch it here. It shows how as fascia (represented by the elastic bands of the tensegrity model Tom made) is a tensegrity network, no one part moves in isolation. It is a continuous, dynamic network capable of withstanding internal and external forces by meeting those forces in return, but when damaged it binds down, thickens and will compress muscles, nerves, blood and lymphatic vessels, and organs. Fascial strain patterns link quite distant parts of the body. The strain pattern is unique to the individual person and is dependent on their own history of falls, injuries, illnesses, emotional strain as well as their posture during sleeping, standing, working and sitting. Even the circumstances of their birth might have set up fascial strain patterns.
Fascia is made up of 3 substances: Elastin, which as it sounds is the elastic element; collagen, which is the substance that gives strength; and ‘ground substance’ which is the fluid element. Myofascial Release as a therapy has been developed to treat the collagenous element of the fascia. Most massage and stretching techniques only treat the elastin, as they are not held for long enough for the collagen to be released.
Pain from myofascial restriction is described as burning, dull, deep, sharp, heavy, diffuse, or ‘like toothache’, and the exact location is often difficult to pinpoint. The pain can become generalised, and is often referred pain from a restriction elsewhere in the body. A myofascial therapist will aim to treat the origin of the pain which might be in a seemingly unrelated, unaffected area.
Myofascial release is a hands-on technique, performed without oil or wax, which loosens the fibres and re-hydrates the area of fascial restriction, restoring elasticity and connectivity. It treats the whole body, and gets to the cause of the problem, not just the symptoms.
Myofascial restrictions do not show up on a CAT scan, MRI or x-ray, so can be missed completely or even misdiagnosed.
So MFR (Myofascial Release) releases the fascia. Tight fascia can cause generalised undiagnosed pain, general tightness in the body, and can be the main cause of, amongst other conditions:
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/ME
- Period Pain
- Scar Tissue Adhesions
- Polymyalgia Rheumatica
- Plantar Fascitis
Joanna uses what is called ‘a listening touch’ which ensures that she works with intent and within your tolerance. She works deeply but ‘goes in’ slowly and carefully so as not to cause unnecessary pain or discomfort. Any pain that is felt during treatment should be a ‘good, healing pain’.
Don’t be surprised if she starts by balancing your pelvis, whatever issue you have come in with! The pelvis is the largest bony structure in the body, so torsions in the pelvis, due to the complete body connectivity of the fascia as discussed above, can have long-reaching effects on all other parts of the body.
During Myofascial Release the body can spontaneously move as the fascia releases. The therapist goes with the movement, assisting and supporting where necessary. If the restriction was originally due to a physical trauma, it is as if the body needs to replicate the position in space in order to release. Sometimes emotion or memories can surface as well.
Self unwinding is a valuable tool and Joanna will help you with developing this technique. You can also view a video clip (slightly dated in style, and out of sync – but still worth watching!) of her teacher, John Barnes, demonstrating this here. You know when you stretch, sometimes your body sort of ‘takes over’? Well, that is self unwinding, and if you can allow that to happen by letting the body do it’s own thing and switching off the control that the mind likes to have over the body, it’s as if the body knows exactly what it needs to do to heal itself. If we (our mind) let it, the body is very powerful self healer!