Myofascial Release (MFR)

magnified microtubules of fascia


Myofascial Release focuses on the fascial system but affects every part of the body. Fascia is a continuous web of connective tissue that connects every cell to all of your other cells. Everything in the body — muscles, organs, nerves, bones, and more — is suspended in and supported by the fascial system. Essentially, the fascia connects, protects, and shapes the human body.

In its optimal form, fascia has a flexible, gel-like consistency, and provides the glide for muscles and other structures to move with ease. Collagen and elastin fibers serve as the structure of the web; they form into strong, yet flexible, hollow microtubules. Inside these microtubules, as well as in between all of the spaces of the web, is a gel matrix, called ground substance.

Restrictions in Fascia

  Injuries and trauma (both physical and emotional) create restrictions in the fascial system because the fascia braces to protect the body from harm. This bracing causes areas of the ground substance to become dehydrated, which makes the tissue feel thick, stiff, or hard. The restrictions can pull in any direction through the whole web and are capable of putting a tensile pressure of up to 2,000 pounds per square inch onto sensitive structures in their path — like joints, nerves, tendons, and blood vessels — resulting in pain, limited mobility, and decreased function.

MFR Principles

  Myofascial Release techniques transition restricted fascia back to the gel-like state, restoring ease, function, and comfort. It’s important to note, however, that a lot of methods and tools use the term Myofascial Release yet are not, in fact, able to release fascia. The most important reason for this is that they don’t follow two fundamental MFR principles — use no force and engage the barrier for a sustained period. 

MFR's Effect on Fascia

  In true MFR, the therapist’s hands sink slowly into the tissue until the tissue resists, which we call engaging the fascial barrier. The therapist waits at that barrier for a sustained period, generally a minimum of five minutes. 

  After the first few minutes, the body begins to release various cytokines which have anti-inflammatory properties (interleukin-8, interleukin-3, and interleukin-1b). Without sustained pressure, these cytokines are not released. Without these chemicals, fascia does not truly release. These chemicals, in essence, get the message to the fascia that it’s safe to stop bracing to protect. 

  As a result, the dehydrated fascia softens, which allows the tissue to transition back to its natural gel-like consistency. Finally, the tension in the web softens and eases the pressure off pain-sensitive structures, thus allowing for natural body processes (e.g., circulation, nerve function, cellular hydration) to return to healthy function, and for the pain to subside.

Experiencing Myofascial Release

  You may feel broad pressure or a slow stretch in the immediate area under the therapist’s hands, but it’s also common to feel sensations in seemingly unrelated areas of the body. Making sense of all of these sensations isn’t necessary. All you need to do is tune in and let yourself feel whatever is there.

If you’re interested in MFR training, or more about John F. Barnes, PT,
the man responsible for creating and popularizing
this method of healing bodywork, click the logo below.