Myofascial Release (MFR) is a specialised physical and manual therapy used for the effective treatment and rehabilitation of soft tissue and fascial aches, pains, tension and restrictions.
It is traditionally accepted that myofascia is the connective tissue (fascia) in and around muscles, where muscles are the powerhouses of locomotion and posture for the body. Myofascial release is, therefore, an application used to alleviate tension, restrictions and adhesions in the myofascia in order to restore balance and function. Muscles respond well to firm deep pressure which is probably why MFR specifically targeting muscles and kinetic chains (muscle chains) uses a relatively firm force applied by the practitioner and also why therapy tools such as foam rollers, cricket balls and sports peanuts are so popular. Many people, especially sports people, like firm pressure and feel that muscular stretch and deep therapy work benefits them. When people are fit, healthy and physically active, deeper MFR approaches can be appropriate but never to the painful stage. However, consideration has to be taken in to account that excessive and aggressive deep work either by an unskilled practitioner or by the use of therapy tools by an uneducated person could actually create more restriction, scarring and inflammation and therefore damage tissue. In addition, bruising is tissue damage and any self-care or treatment approaches should never result in bruising. Using firm pressure may affect the deep muscular tissue but can have a damaging affect on the more fragile superficial tissues.
The general understanding of ‘myofascial release’ has changed over the last decade since MFR UK has been providing workshops for healthcare professionals. In the past, MFR was a treatment approach in its own right and everything else was called massage. However, with popularity comes ambiguity and what MFR is and how it’s applied has become somewhat lost in translation over recent years. Normally the term ‘massage’ describes a fluid movement over the body using lubrication. As the popularity of MFR grows, massage treatments are being renamed ‘MFR’ to keep up with the current trends creating confusion for both practitioners seeking professional MFR training and for clients seeking resolve from their pain and discomfort. The thought is that as massage treats muscles, then myofascia must be being treated as well. This is not strictly incorrect as you can’t influence one without influencing the other. This is also why self-care approaches such as foam rolling have become termed ‘self-myofascial release’, or SMFR, yet a practitioner using their forearm on your leg in a massage is the same application of stroke but can still be called massage or soft tissue therapy. Confusingly, the term massage and MFR seem to have become interchangeable. However, it is of huge value to understand that not all fascia is myofascia and true MFR treats the entire fascial structures not only that of the muscular system.
No-one owns the term ‘myofascial release’ and it is indeed only a term just like the term massage. However, as research into fascia has increased, the awareness of what fascia is has cultivated a change of thinking as to what tissues we are actually treating when we touch the human body. Can you really touch the skin without influencing the tissues below? Can we really affect muscle without influencing the skin and the superficial fascia above and can we actually affect the visceral tissues when the muscles above are restricted? In addition, if all fascial structures are lubricated by the viscous ground substance (gel fascia), which is a non-Newtonian fluid resisting pressure in order to protect, then fascial applications should be applied to influence more than the myofascia alone. When the fascial system is restricted, the ground substance becomes thicker (more viscous). This means less lubrication of the soft tissue and myofascial structures encouraging adhesions and internal scarring and dysfunction which affects all other structures. The fascial is a totally connected system and is the system that touches all others. Which then brings the next consideration. if the fascial system touches all other systems, then by default, all therapeutic applications which physically influence the body, have to be fascial. However, before we get carried away, it’s not what we do, it’s how we do it that makes the difference.
Traditional MFR approaches, and certainly, those massage approaches renamed MFR, fail to address the entire 3D fascial system but maintain a myopic point of view providing short lived results for many people. Moreover, some MFR approaches have been shown to be too aggressive for chronic and persistent pain sufferers and even make their conditions worse.
As research has progressed, we have learned so much more about the fascial system where a firm, deep pressure into the system has been replaced by a cultivated kinesthetic and skilled touch refined by knowledge of mechanotransduction, fluid dynamics, piezoelectricity and viscosity. The days of ‘no pain, no gain’ are gone and is replaced by ‘pain, no gain’
The next issue we have is the term ‘myofascial release’ isn’t quite accurate either. New research has highlighted that we can’t actually ‘release’ anything with exception of releasing perceived tension. Yet, MFR is the recognised term and is probably the term that will stay in the manual therapy toolbox.
MFR does not use oils or lotions, it is performed dry so that the practitioner avoids glide over the skin but can feel deeper into the tissue. MFR UK cultivates a sense of touch so that each and every treatment is uniquely delivered with skilled ‘listening’ hands. Regardless of your client base being derived from the sports, athletic and performance field or whether you work with chronic and persistent pain, our training provides a wealth of theory, research and effective techniques and MFR approaches to suit your client base.
MFR UK teaches and promotes an integrated approach to MFR. We specialise in the sustained approach to MFR where we are targeting the fluid ground substance of the fascial system following the ebb and flow of the tissues in totality. These sustained techniques offer body wide change and tissue reorganisation as well as offer a platform for emotional release and trauma resolve. Our integrated approach teaches the practitioner the skill of feeling different layers and structures under their hands, this is the art of kinesthetic touch. This approach allows practitioners to learn which techniques are appropriate for individual clients and how to apply them in a bespoke manner. No one technique fits all, instead, the skill of learning MFR is how much pressure to use and for how long to encourage tissue change without force.