What is Myofascial Release?
Myofascial release therapy (MFR) was developed by John F. Barnes, PT to specifically address the fascia, the connective tissue that runs like a three-dimensional web throughout the body. MFR involves applying gentle, sustained pressure into myofascial connective tissue restrictions to eliminate pain and restore motion. By going slowly and waiting for the body’s natural rhythm, the fascia responds by elongating, rehydrating, and reorganizing.
MFR is a hands-on treatment performed on the skin with no oils or creams. The gentle tension between the therapist’s hands and the patient’s skin is what allows access to the fascia in a way that the gliding effect of traditional massage cannot achieve. By following the unique lines of tension in each patient’s body, the MFR therapist can reach deeply into the tissues and uncover significant restrictions.
What is Fascia?
Fascia is a web-like tissue that runs three-dimensionally throughout the body. It surrounds and supports every cell, nerve, organ, muscle, and bone in your body. When it is restricted, it dehydrates and becomes like glue. It not only loses its mobility, but it can also exert force on underlying structures — up to 2,000 lbs. per square inch! This tension can create pain when applied directly into pain-sensitive structures. It can also reduce range of motion in joints, cause muscle pain and fatigue when muscles have to work against tight fascia, and can even cause bizarre, seemingly unrelated symptoms when fascia entraps nerves.
Additionally, fascia is tightly integrated into the autonomic nervous system. It is particularly effective at contracting throughout the entire body when the nervous system is in fight-or-flight mode, all in the interest of keeping us safe. But in a condition such as fibromyalgia, the chronic activation of the fight-or-flight mode leaves the fascia in a constricted, tense state, which leads to pain and dysfunction.
How is MFR Different?
Fascia runs through the body in a web, penetrating and supporting every bodily system. Traditional therapies will often address only muscles and their insertions and origins. But fascia can form longer lines of tension, such as those running from the front of your right shoulder to the back of your left hip. Restrictions in the fascial web can cause strange referred pain and discomfort. For example, tension in the left quadriceps could refer discomfort into the left side of your diaphragm. Additionally, dysfunction in your lower spine can easily cause headaches. Therefore, MFR does not simply treat a patient’s symptoms. We assess the body for myofascial restrictions and work with you to relieve the restriction, wherever we find it.
And the results last. Two recent European studies found MFR helpful in providing long-term pain reduction in fibromyalgia. After 20 sessions of MFR, fibromyalgia patients reported significant pain reduction. What was really great about these studies is that they showed long-lasting pain relief, with subjects reporting reduced levels of pain one month and six months after their last session. Dr. Ginevra Liptan led a pilot study at Oregon Health and Science University that compared myofascial release to standard massage for fibromyalgia. The study found that the group that received six sessions of MFR had more improvement in pain than the group that received six sessions of massage.
What to Expect During Treatment
At your first MFR session, Jamie will spend a bit of time getting to know you, finding out your goals and expectations, and answering any questions you may have about MFR. He’ll also assess your posture and structural balance as a starting place for treatment. Afterward, he will likely give you some homework, which usually involves some gentle self-treatment stretches to maximize your results.
MFR is performed on bare skin, but being fully undressed is not necessary. The best attire is a two-piece bathing suit or shorts and tank top for women, and loose gym shorts for men. And because MFR is performed on the skin, please refrain from using any lotions on the day of your visit, as this will make treatment difficult.
Frequently Asked Questions
I have fibromyalgia, and massage makes my pain worse. Does MFR hurt?
Compared to other forms of bodywork, myofascial release is very gentle and slow. Generally speaking, traditional massage and physical therapy techniques tend to hurt people with chronic pain because often the therapists are trying to force through fascial restrictions, and the patient’s body reflexively tenses and causes a flare. MFR never forces, but rather gently waits for the body to release restrictions on its own schedule. This eliminates most of the pain from traditional bodywork.
However, each person’s fascial restrictions are different, and addressing some very old or “stuck” restrictions can be more painful than others. Releasing those restrictions can give rise to pain that had been in there a long time. We call this "therapeutic pain." For an in-depth explanation of this phenomenon from John Barnes, click here (pdf link).
What is the "healing crisis"?
Sometimes an MFR treatment can free a restriction and send an area of your body through a bit of reorganization. We call this the "healing crisis." Imagine that you sprained an ankle, and rather than fix it, someone gave you a pair of crutches that you learned to use and live with for years, adjusting how you moved. If someone came along and fixed your ankle and removed the crutches, your body would have to take a little time to re-learn how to move and balance naturally again. This is similar to MFR treatment, which addresses fundamental dysfunctions and allows our bodies to find their natural equilibrium again.
How many treatments will it take?
It depends on the patient, of course. But most people notice significant changes within three or four sessions. It is particularly effective to group sessions as close together as possible to make the most progress (such as 2–3 treatments per week). Many people receive several MFR treatments within a short time to address a specific concern, and then find themselves receiving “MFR maintenance” sessions every few months. You can schedule an appointment here.
Do I need to be a medical patient at The Frida Center to schedule MFR?
No, anyone can benefit from MFR, whether you have fibromyalgia or not, and you don't need any referrals or prescriptions.
What does it cost?
MFR treatments are 75 minutes long, and cost $125 each. You can schedule appointments by clicking here.
How can I learn more about MFR and find other MFR therapists?
There is a wealth of information at myofascialrelease.com, and you can search for qualified John F. Barnes MFR therapists at mfrtherapists.com.