Massage vs Myofascial Release
Myofascial Release (MFR) is a specialized type of bodywork, but MFR techniques can be blended with different therapies.
Connective-tissue (fascia) wraps and is interwoven throughout muscle, which means every bodyworker indirectly works on fascia. This makes it easy for bodyworkers to advertise MFR as part of their services. Myofascial Release has precise techniques, and if they're applied haphazardly, they're not as effective.
Since MFR is advertised by many massage businesses, and is often incorporated into physical therapy and other hybrid therapies, I think it’s important to consider the effectiveness of MFR in relation to how it's applied. I list some factors to consider when searching for an MFR therapist, followed by a list of therapists that can offer it. Then I describe different therapies, including hybrid therapies that have adopted MFR techniques.
Factors to consider before choosing an MFR therapist
Sustained traction (separating the joints), static compression (pressure), and slow, deep strokes (soft tissue mobilization) are the techniques used in MFR.
to get the maximum release of fascia, it’s crucial for the therapist to use these techniques without pausing or changing positions for an extended period of time.
five-to-seven minutes is the average amount of time it takes to completely release fascia.
the client’s skin is used as a lever, which helps initiate the release of tension in fascia.
When using the skin as a lever, oil is not used because it makes it difficult for the therapist to keep their hands from sliding.
a typical MFR treatment is 60-90 minutes
Who offers Myofascial Release?
Physical therapists, massage therapists, chiropractors, osteopaths, and occupational therapists can offer MFR as a service. Massage therapists and physical therapists are the most common practitioners who specialize in it.
The difference between massage and MFR is that massage uses steady movements—like kneading—and MFR uses sustained pressure. When giving a massage, the therapist can incorporate MFR techniques. They might hold your neck, feet, arms, etc. in traction, or compress your head, feet, shoulders, etc. A massage therapist who specializes in MFR won't usually incorporate massage techniques.
Some chiropractors use MFR techniques. If you locate one who does, it's a great find. Myofascial Release complements chiropractic because the release of fascia puts more space in the body, which helps the spine stay in the correct place; therefore, the client can hold their adjustment for a longer period of time. Chiropractors usually have a minimal amount of time to spend with their clients, so if they incorporate MFR, it might be brief.
A doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) is a licensed physician who practices in all areas of medicine; plus, they have special training in the musculoskeletal system. Osteopaths use physical manipulation to address the body's fascia and bones. Osteopaths often use MFR, or massage in their treatments. Finding an osteopath who favors MFR is optimal.
Physical therapists and occupational therapists
Physical therapists create treatment plans that help reduce pain and improve their patients ability to move. Therapists might prescribed exercise, and/or bodywork. Myofascial Release is an excellent method to use in PT treatments because of its potential to restore range of motion.
Occupational therapists help disabled people function at everyday activities. These might be simple tasks like getting dressed, or getting out of bed. Myofascial Release is great to incorporate into OT treatments because it helps re-program the nervous system, which in turn improves functionality.
Generally, the PTs and OTs who specialize in Myofascial Release will be out-of-network. This is because most in-network therapists have to follow protocols that may not include MFR. If they do include MFR, hopefully they allot an adequate amount for it.
Hybrid therapies that incorporate MFR techniques
Neuromuscular therapy (NMT)
Neuromuscular therapy (trigger point therapy) is a specialized form of manual massage. The objective of trigger point therapy is to release knots in muscle. The therapist applies concentrated pressure to hyper-irritable spots in the muscle (trigger points) for an average of 10 to 30 seconds, and then stretches the affected areas.
Fascial stretch therapy (FST)
Fascial stretch therapy is an assistive stretching method that focuses on the fascial meridians and joints in order to improve mobility and free-up nerves. The client makes no contribution to the stretch (passive stretching). Clients are partially strapped to a table while the therapist stretches the client’s free arm, leg, etc.
Active Release Therapy (ART)
Active release therapy is a manual therapy that aims to break-up adhesions (fibrosis) in the fascia, and release entrapped nerves. The therapist applies deep pressure on the area of tenderness while the client is instructed to participate in moving (active stretching) the injured area from a shortened to a lengthened position.
The different therapies serve a specific purpose and are necessary. Receiving multiple therapies is especially supportive for a person who is trying to heal from an injury or surgery.
Scheduling the first MFR treatment with a therapist who mixes modalities might leave a person skeptical about the effects of MFR. True Myofascial Release is quite different than massage and stretching. If an alternative therapy, or the therapist, incorporates MFR techniques into a treatment, the most important thing is time. The client and therapist need to exercise patience in order for the fascia to completely release. Staying on an area for five-to-seven minutes is common practice in MFR, and it's not uncommon to stay longer. Think about a person who has a traumatic injury, like whiplash. It might take ten-to-twenty minutes to get their neck to start to release, and multiple treatments.
The most common therapists who specialize in MFR: massage therapists, physical therapists. They will usually advertise MFR in their company name, or in their website title.