Myofascial release is a term that has been used to describe a method of working with the fascia of the muscles to ‘release’ them from restrictions and adhesions. The complete fascial net includes dense planar tissue sheets, ligaments, tendons, superficial fascia and even the innermost intramuscular layer of the endomysium. The term fascia now includes the dura mater, the periosteum, perineurium, the fibrous capsular layer of vertebral discs, organ capsules as well as bronchial connective tissue and the mesentery of the abdomen
The traditional myofascial release theory is that fascial restrictions can happen as a result of injury or tension. The concept is that you stretch the connective tissue/fascia through the elastin until you hit a stopping point or collagenous barrier and hold the tissue until it releases. It will change from a solid feeling barrier to a liquid to allow the stretch to happen. The change happens through the process of piezoelectricity. Hands on work, supposedly restored the fascial restrictions to allow for better movement and less pain. There are also a multitude of techniques that are referred to as myofascial release that vary from light, soothing pressure held longer to very aggressive, short bursts of pressure to directly change the tissue.
The traditional view of myofascial release takes into consideration posture, orthopedic testing and body symmetry. The basic theory is that fascia moves beyond the origins and insertions of the muscles and can be tracked to other areas of the body.
The Neurological approach to myofascial release takes the brain into consideration. Pain is a result of the nervous system’s perception of the stimulus to the tissues. It may or may not be seen as a threat to the system. When it is seen as a threat, pain results.
Mechanoreceptors in the skin and facia detect input from the environment. The ruffian mechanoreceptors specifically detect lateral skin stretch and are very slow to change or adapt to the pressure applied. Afferent feedback occurs when the body is touched. The brain decides what it will tell the body to do or not do in response to the touch. It could reduce muscle tone and pain or increase it. Posture and symmetry have little to do with the neurological approach. People can have forward head posture and have little to no pain. People can have forward hip rotation and not have any pain.
Most recently though, research shows that fascia cannot be released, manipulated or changed. We are unable to view changes in fascia leaving it up for debate. The only evidence we have is that clients feel different after a so called session of myofascial release. There could be many reasons for this. Connection the cause of something to a event that just happened is a logical fallacy. Correlation is not causation.
Myofascial release is often also associated with emotional release and psychological issues that are said to be found in the body. Many will seek out this therapy thinking it will solve their psychological issues. This is anecdotal evidence at best. Any type of touch may bring up emotions. There are some teachers of myofascial release that make it sound like their work is specifically meant to create an emotional response. This is clearly out of scope of practice for massage therapists.
What the Research says.
Neither the traditional or neurological model of myofascial release have been verified by science as to date.
There are many randomized controlled studies that seem to verify the myofascial work, but fail to recognize that the theories behind myofascial work have not been scientifically demonstrated to be true. These old models do not have any research to back up how myofascial release works.
New models for Myofascial Release look at the influence of the nervous system on the body. The nervous system is really the key to everything.