Modern medicine is currently undergoing significant changes. Individuals are taking a more prominent role in their own health, demanding options that are effective, affordable and sustainable. The result is a slow but consistent integration of new technology, ancient wisdom and everything between the two. While today’s health care consumers have an unprecedented array of choices available, the responsibility of making the best choice can be overwhelming and confusing.
The hallmark of the transformation taking place within health care is the realization that effective treatment must address the whole being versus seemingly unrelated segments of the person. Myofascial release (MFR), though not widely recognized, has stood the test of time as a powerful healing tool. MFR as discussed in this article refers to the John Barnes’ Treatment Approach (www.myofascialrelease.com). John Barnes is recognized as the founder and leader in understanding and developing MFR as an integrative, hands-on treatment.
Even though MFR has been around for decades there remains much confusion about what it really is. A closer look at fascia helps explain why MFR is so effective. Myo means muscle, and fascia means bandage or girdle. Fascia is a connective tissue which runs continuously throughout our entire body like a three-dimensional web. It is not only running through our muscles, but also our bones, organs, vessels and skin. Fascia is, in reality, what gives us our shape and holds everything together. If you looked at the body as just a muscular system or skeletal system without fascia, you would see a pile of muscles and bones.
Fascia consists of collagen, elastin and a gel-like ground substance which provides ease of movement. Think of it as oil lubricating an engine. Fascia in a healthy state is wavy in configuration and absorbs many forces throughout the body. It not only serves to provide structure, but also protects, supports and connects every structure within our body. Much broader than the name implies, there are levels of fascia. The superficial layer includes the skin layers, the deep layer permeates bones, muscles and vessels, and the deepest layer surrounds our central nervous system. Fascia literally influences every cellular transaction in our body. Ironically, maybe due to its pervasiveness in our bodies, fascia has been overlooked by most of the medical community as vital to our well-being.
On the next page, learn what happens when an injury occurs.
When an injury occurs, the fascia can become immobile and tighten down, resulting in snags in the fascial web. This tightening puts pressure on structures such as joints, nerves and muscles. The result can be felt as pain, a headache or restricted motion. It is important to note that injury can come from various sources such as physical trauma, overuse micro-trauma, disease, stress, surgical or other medical procedures and even blocked emotions or memories.
Due to the three-dimensional web-like structure of the fascial system, injury can result in pain or decreased function in a seemingly unrelated area in the body. Clients often report symptoms in places other than their original injury site. To illustrate this, pull down on your shirt sleeve toward your fingers and you will feel the pressure on your elbow or shoulder, not your fingers. Because MFR treatment encompasses the whole person in the treatment, consistently effective results are achieved for a wide variety of health issues. This includes unexplained or chronic symptoms which traditional treatments have not resolved. MFR is also very effective for common situations such as TMJ, joint pain, pelvic floor dysfunction, migraines and back pain.
MFR incorporates gentle hands-on techniques, usually with a sustained pressure. The pressure can range from very light to deep. Some techniques might include light compression, traction or movement of a body part or the entire body. A skilled MFR therapist learns to feel the restrictions and apply pressure in the appropriate direction and depth until they release. Release opens up the tight or stuck places in the fascial system, kind of like lubricating a rusty spring. As the lubrication occurs, the body naturally aligns itself in a more healthy state, providing freedom of movement and release of pain.
When going for MFR treatment, expect your clinician to perform a pertinent history and evaluation, including a detailed posture assessment. This will be followed by hands-on techniques as described above. A skilled MFR therapist applies science and intuition to focus energy throughout the session, allowing for the greatest release of restriction and pain. You, as the client, are encouraged to be an active participant, which means focusing on the experience to allow for a greater awareness of your body’s natural optimal alignment.
We live in an exciting time of self-discovery as individuals are taking more control of their own health and well-being. Healthy lifestyle choices such as optimal nutrition, activity and rest, along with healthy mental, emotional and spiritual practice, help to ensure our normal state. Myofascial release provides a key piece to help integrate the whole being into its highest state of wellness.