Myofascial release is relatively new. Osteopathic physician Dr. Robert Ward of Michigan State University taught the first course entitled “myofascial release” at that school in the 1970s, and references to it first began to appear in the medical literature in the 1980s. However, as a holistic treatment that looks at the body as an integrated whole, its roots go back a long way, to the soft-tissue manipulations and stretches of osteopathy, which was first done in the nineteenth century. Myofascial release is a therapeutic treatment utilizing a gentle form of stretching, producing a healing effect upon the body tissues, eliminating pain and restoring motion. Fascia is a connective tissue that surrounds every muscle, bone, nerve, blood vessel, and organ of the body, down to the cellular level.
Malfunction of the fascial system due to trauma, posture, or inflammation can create a binding down of the fascia, resulting in abnormal pressure on nerves, muscles, bones, or organs. By freeing up fascia that may be impeding blood vessels or nerves, myofascial release is also said to enhance the body’s innate restorative powers by improving circulation and nervous system transmission. People with longstanding back pain, fibromyalgia, recurring headaches, sports injuries, and a host of additional complaints are all said to benefit from the technique.
Like many alternative therapies, myofascial release is part of a larger philosophy of healing that emphasizes the importance of mind-body interactions and preventive care. It may also be part of a pain management program that would include behavioral health techniques, acupuncture, drug therapy, nutritional counseling, and relaxation techniques.
The therapy’s easy stretches break up, or “release,” constrictions or snags in the fascia. The stretch is guided by feedback the therapist 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 feedback the therapist feels determines which muscles are stretched and in what order.
See professional therapist.
Certification through advanced courses for massage, occupational and physical therapists, as well as athletic trainers, is available through bodywork schools. Initial courses may run 16-24 hours over several days. Part-time coursework that incorporates all levels of training and may take up to a year is also available.