Using Myofascial Release to Eliminate Pain and Restore Motion

By: Dr. Michael Vanchieri, DC.

Myofascial Release is a safe and effective treatment that involves applying gentle sustained pressure into the myofascial connective tissue restrictions to alleviate pain and restore range of motion. Myofascial restrictions can be caused by trauma, inflammatory response, or surgical procedures. We’ll talk more about myofascial release but first, let’s talk about why it’s important in treating the individual.

In medicine, there are fundamental principles that must be obeyed in order to ethically and effectively remove disease from the human body. One of these principles is to treat the true root cause of the issue. Another principle is to utilize the minimum effective dose in order to induce this change. These principles must be respected while understanding that managing symptoms is just that: management. To claim a disease is removed from a body by reducing symptoms is like closing your eyes on the subway: just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

In terms of conservative care, the symptom is typically pain and the root cause is usually a range of motion restriction and/or weakness. Abiding by the aforementioned principles, the tool kit of a conservative care physician must be adequate enough to reduce the range of motion restrictions and increase strength. While the various rehabilitation exercises used to increase strength are a topic for another article, a reduced range of motion is more effectively and efficiently treated by expertly applied myofascial release.

Conceptually, overuse, underuse, or acute injury causes myofascial adhesion in muscles, ligaments, tendons, and nerves. These adhesions are what commonly causes the reduction in range of motion. Imagine the stickiness of superglue in your muscles and how it could limit your flexibility. The purpose of myofascial release is to break down this super glue such that your range of motion can be restored. With this restoration of range, less load is placed on your joints, thus reducing pain.

Range of motion is like the blood pressure to your musculoskeletal system. Just like blood pressure is an indication of your cardiovascular system, so is the range of motion to your joints. You may not need to touch your toes in daily life, but if you can’t, chances are there is adhesion somewhere in your lower back, hips, or hamstrings. Range of motion (similarly to blood pressure) is also easily measured, thus indicating whether or not there is progress being made. If your cardiologist prescribes blood pressure medication, they’re going to check to ensure that it’s working. If it’s not, the treatment plan needs to change.

Just like anything, myofascial release comes in many shapes and sizes. Similarly to a slice of New York pizza, myofascial release can be as cheap as a piece of foam, or as expensive as a lifetime of clinical excellence, each one coming at their respective price points. A truly outstanding clinician is going to get you results much more effectively than a lacrosse ball. Think about how you would carve up a nice steak: to get the most flavorful bite, the direction of the fiber of the tissues matter, where the bone is matters (if it’s a T-Bone), the direction of how you use the knife matters. When it comes down to it, your muscles are no different than a steak so leave the application to an expert. They know which way the muscle fiber goes, whether there are vascular or nerve system structures in the area, how deep into the tissue the adhesion is, and how much tension to apply to break it down. You may save some money with that fancy new vibrating massage gun, but you’re still going to feel pain in the long run.

Bottom line: your pain is either caused by a length issue or a strength issue. In most cases, lack of length is due to super glue-like adhesion in your muscles, ligaments, tendons, and nerves. The best way to reduce that adhesion is via myofascial release. The best technicians in myofascial release will get you the best results as indicated by an increased range of motion, and consequent reduction in pain.

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