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  • Brian Phillips

Rolfing vs Myofascial Release Therapy

Most of my clients have never had a Myofascial Release (MFR) treatment before booking an appointment with me. It would make my job (Myofascial Release Therapy) easier to describe if the phrase Myofascial Release was straightforward.

What is myofascial release therapy?

Myofascial Release is easily misinterpreted because there are two therapies that specialize in the network of connective-tissue (fascial system).

In order to clarify what MFR truly is, I give a description of fascia, followed by a definitive explanation of the two modalities that specialize in it.


What is Fascia?

Fascia is connective-tissue that sculpts and patterns the body.

Fascia surrounds and holds every organ, blood vessel, bone, nerve and muscle in place. Fascia is viewed as a system. The fascial system affects the skeletal and muscular systems because fascial fibers are like guide wires that hold the skeleton and muscles in place. Internal and external stressors affect the arrangement of the fascial fibers, which in turn affect the way a person unconsciously holds their body.

Due to physical and emotional stress, fascia can pinch sensitive structures—like nerves.


How to interpret Myofascial Release

The use of the word Myofascial Release can refer to two different therapies.

The two therapies: Myofascial Release, Structural Integration Structural (SI)—aka Rolfing.

Structural Integration is a therapy that’s attributed to Myofascial Release, but it’s not to be confused with the modality coined Myofascial Release.

Myofascial Release and Structural Integration share the same concept: they both focus solely on the fascial system.

This may sound puzzling, so I will differentiate Myofascial Release from Structural Integration.


What is the difference between Myofascial Release and Structural Integration?

Myofascial Release uses a gentle technique (indirect approach) to address fascia.

Structural Integration uses deep pressure (direct approach) to address fascia.


About Structural Integration

Structural Integration is a manual therapy that manipulates the body's fascial layers. Facia is subject to malformation as a result of gravity. Structural Integration is recommended to receive in a series of ten-to-twelve treatments that address the whole body in order to improve posture. Therapists use slow, deep strokes (soft tissue mobilization) to break-up adhesions in fascia. This can be a little uncomfor-

What is structural integration?

table when the therapist addresses the deeper layers of fascia. Think—deep tissue massage, only slower and without oil.

Structural Integration philosophy: Stimulating the sensory neurons in the muscle through force allows the nervous system to reduce tension in fascia, therefore returning fascia to its proper shape.

A well-known style of Structural Integration: The Rolf Method (Rolfing).


About Myofascial Release Therapy

Myofascial release is a manual therapy that uses light, sustained pressure to promote a release of tension in fascia (release) to happen organically. This helps relieve tension caused by trauma, inflammatory responses, and surgical procedures.

What is myofascial release?

Myofascial release treatments focus on the client’s primary areas of concern. A release feels like a slow melting of the muscles, or like there’s more space opening-up in the body.

Myofascial release philosophy: Using a non-invasive approach encourages the nervous system to relax, which helps compromised fascia to release itself through the path of least resistance.

A well-known style of myofascial release: The John F. Barnes P.T. Myofascial Release Approach.


What is catharsis?

Fascial cells keep a somatic record of the way a person holds their body during stressful states, which also includes tension that is brought on by emotions. The term muscle memory is a generalization. A more accurate term is fascial memory.

Catharsis is an emotional release. Myofascial Release and Structural Integration enhance mind/body awareness, which makes catharsis a possibility. Catharsis can help people reconcile trauma that is being held in their body.


The dichotomy of Myofascial Release

The way MFR and SI therapists approach the fascial system are opposite of each other, but they have the same intention: recognize unconscious muscular patterns, and help reprogram these patterns by encouraging fascia to return to a more fluid-like state. This improves posture, eliminates discomfort, and restores motion.

The stand-alone use of the word Myofascial Release is open to interpretation, as it encompasses both deep and gentle techniques. Myofascial Release therapy primarily uses the gentle approach. Structural Integration (Rolfing) mainly uses the deep approach.

Myofascial Release is not a one-size-fits-all approach. The two approaches are offered by a diverse range of therapists. There are also hybrid therapies that combine MFR techniques with other systems of therapy.


Myofascial Release: a gentle approach

Not everyone feels like they respond to MFR right away; but more accurately, it takes some people longer to notice the effects of MFR than others. In this case, I might incorporate some deep techniques, but I favor the gentle approach.

I choose to specialize in Myofascial Release because I’ve had amazing results using this method. I’m particularly impressed with how MFR helps people who struggle with chronic pain and migraines. Some of my clients were stuck in chronic pain cycles for over a decade and they’re pain-free now. I attribute their healing to the spontaneous releases that occur during treatments. The releases evidently rewire the neural-signals that cause pain. This is mind-blowing to me, which is why I continue to implement this gentle method of therapy.

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