Let’s Start With Fascia
Fascia is a densely woven, tough connective tissue found throughout the body from head to toe. It can be compared to a spider web holding everything together. It binds the muscles, ligaments, blood vessels, and nerves together. Yet, injuries, poor posture, illness, and stress can cause fascia to scar down, resulting in increased pressure on nerves, muscles, and blood vessels. Many people suffering with pain and or restricted mobility may go undiagnosed, because most standard tests (x-ray, blood tests, etc.) don’t reveal myofascial problems.
Like a “pull” in a sweater, the effects of ongoing tension and strain are thought to build over time. Abnormal pressures may tighten or bind fascia to underlying structures, causing adhesions. Even though they don’t show up on diagnostic tests, these restrictions can stiffen joints and contribute to restricted motion, numbness, tingling, and pain.
So How is it Different than Massage?
The purpose of myofascial release is to provide the slow, sustained, gentle pressure of human touch to cause soft tissue such as fascia to elongate and return to its normal state, freeing up restrictions and relieving pressure. Unlike massage, myofascial release is targeted for treatment of a diagnosed myofascial condition.
Myofascial release is a type of manual (hands-on) healthcare treatment, known as manual therapy. While muscles often respond to the firmer strokes and thrusts of massage, fascia may respond to a milder touch. Another type of manual therapy, chiropractic manipulation, focuses on improving motion and function of particular joints, while myofascial release works on a broader area of muscular and fascial tissue. The movements of myofascial release treatments have been compared to kneading a piece of taffy- gentle stretching that gradually softens, lengthens, and pulls restrictions from the fascia.
The following video from an researcher who studies fascia gives some very interesting details about myofascial anatomy and function. (warning: the video does contain images of human anatomical specimens)