Myofascial massage is a gentle massage modality that releases the connective tissue or fascia through gentle, sustained stretching and pressure. As the underlying fascia releases, muscles relax and mobility improves.
Myofascial massage is usually performed without creams or oils, or alternately, if the therapist has already applied lubricant, she may use the client’s bones for an anchor if she finds a restriction so that a stretch can be achieved. The stretching is usually comfortable and even relaxing. The results of this sustained stretching on the fascial structures provide pain relief that can be quite amazing considering the pressure is so gentle.
Fascia is the thin tissue that covers everything in your body and gives it structure. You’ve seen it between the skin and the flesh when you’ve skinned a chicken. Fascia covers your organs, your muscles and even the individual muscle fibers and cells. Fascia exists in a continuous sheet throughout the body so that a restriction in one part of the body can cause pain in another part of the body even if they seem to have no relation to each other. We call this referred pain.
When you are injured, the muscle fibers and the fascia become tight and restricted and may even stick to each other. Scar tissue may form as the fascial sheet thickens at the injury site and loses some of its elasticity. The gentle stretching action of myofascial massage can release this restriction, restore elasticity and return the muscles and organs to optimal functioning.
To discover the restrictions, the therapist will palpate the skin and underlying connective tissues to locate areas of adhesion and compromised movement. Then she will apply traction, stretching and twisting strokes to loosen the fascia. The movements are slow and deliberate and may last several minutes until the tissue relaxes. When this happens, the client often will feel a sudden sense of release. In fact, if the muscles are holding a great deal of tension, the release can be rather intense. The therapist may follow with Swedish or deep tissue massage to further release the muscles.
Two of the most famous myofascial release teachers in the United States are John Upledger and John Barnes. Upledger and Barnes believe muscles lock because of the stress people hold in their bodies and because of injury and scarring. They teach that myofascial release can release these blockages, realign scar tissue and improve range of motion. Other teachers include Ida Rolf and Tom Myers. Their techniques often go deeper over the course of time, and can be more painful. However, these techniques can quite literally reshape the structure of the body.
Incorporating myofascial techniques into your massage session can result in improved posture and flexibility as the fascial adhesions that constrict muscles relax and soreness dissipates.
One of the benefits of myofascial massage is that it is not painful, so it is a good choice for clients who bruise easily, have thinning skin or who suffer from fibromyalgia-like symptoms. Myofascial massage has also been shown to improve the symptoms of such ailments as migraine headaches, repetitive stress injuries, menstrual cramps, and muscle spasms.
Chances are your therapist is already using some myofascial techniques to your session. To find out more, please speak to your therapist.