Myofascial release is a form of bodywork therapy whereby a professional applies sustained, even pressure into myofascial connective tissue. This helps release trapped pain and restore motion and proper functioning.
Myofascial tissue is that which supports and surrounds our cells, nerves, organs, muscles, and bones.
Lived experiences including trauma, surgery, injury, or inflammatory responses can create issues with this large network of tissue.
I first learned about it years ago from one registered massage therapist who was familiar with fibromyalgia. This person knew from experience that what she had learned about our community was false. She said that in school they were taught to be gentle with those with fibromyalgia. That we cannot withstand firm pressure or deep tissue massage. That we are to be treated with fragility.
She said every person with fibro she has worked with has defied the stereotype.
She asked me if I’d ever tried other treatments for these “knots,” and if I was interested in a dry massage that included myofascial release work instead of the standard deep tissue. It was one of the best treatments I’ve had to date.
How does myofascial release work?
Ginevra Liptan, MD, explains on her site that fibromyalgia pain is caused by inflamed and stuck fascia.
“When it is restricted, it dehydrates and becomes like glue,” she says. “It not only loses its mobility, but it can also exert force on underlying structures — up to 2,000 lbs. per square inch.”
This would explain fluctuating things like why it sometimes feels like my shoulders are being clamped or why it feels like there is a hot iron pressing my chest to my spine.
Liptan says this tension creates pain, reduces range of motion, and can cause odd, seemingly unrelated symptoms when fascia entraps nerves. I'm thinking: shooting pains, stabbing pains, pains of metal nails through finger nails, radiating pain, hot spots, and restless leg.
Fascia, she explains, 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,” Liptan said.
“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,” says Liptan.
Myofascial release work can help to reduce pain. For Liptan, she says it was the treatment that enabled her to go back to medical school after being diagnosed with fibromyalgia.
She also sites two external studies and one self-piloted project that all show positive, and lasting, results on pain levels.
For me, it’s been too long since I had a proper myofascial release treatment (like years). I also did not continue to go the professional who was experienced. I moved, and as such, I bought the Back Buddy tool to help myself at home so I could save money and get a better handle on my own healthcare...
I highly recommend the Back Buddy as it helps you to press on common trigger points and diffuse pain. It even comes with a reflexology guide. That being said, I can only do so much and it certainly is not the same as working with a professional. It wasn’t until starting this blog I was reminded of this by a friend who has done the self-work. Sometimes we become so accustomed to our pain that when someone tells us they have become “pain-free,” it hardly seems plausible. We cope instead of release. We lose faith in the process, because, let’s face it, it is a process. Any one of us is going to need more than a single session, and it takes money, spoons, and support to start a new pain management journey.
Often, we may feel marginal improvements and stop. The problem is, our underlying condition has not changed. We still have fibromyalgia and the fight-or-flight really does tense things up. For some of us, particularly those with past trauma, it’s pretty much constant overstimulation.
This is where we come back to taking a holistic approach to managing such a complex syndrome. For example, some professional MFR work mixed with daily stretching and other healthy habits.
We’ll talk about habits tomorrow - the ones that are hard to ditch regardless, and especially when you are chronically ill.