What is Myofascial Release?
A Word on Muscle Fibers & Fascia
If you train regularly, then your muscles are more than likely sore. They’re tight, tense, and hard to maneuver a few days after a workout. Sometimes, it feels like the muscle is so tight that it cannot move at all.
This is because your muscle fibers tense up after exercise due to constant muscle contracting and relaxing. After all, the whole purpose of the intense exercise is to contract these fibers in the hope that they tear. But if the muscle fibers are just short of tearing, then they just become tense. And if the pressure is not released, they remain tense.
The layer above the muscle fibers becomes tense, too. This layer is called the fascia. It is a thin, fibrous layer that covers every muscle and organ in the body in one continuous sheet. It’s very densely woven and moves with the muscles, making sure that they are not injured during activity. Most times, this fascia layer is relaxed and can move without any restrictions. However, when stressors are added to the body, the fascia tenses up and becomes more immobile. These stressors can include physical trauma, emotional stress, inflammation, and scarring of the muscle (source linked here).
So tense fascia cannot move as easily. It limits the body’s mobility. And since the fascia covers all the organs and muscles in the body, tight fascia means limited muscular mobility. This can make training difficult, even to the most experienced lifter. It also becomes dangerous. If you try to move too tense of a muscle that has limited mobility, it is more prone to injury. It’s easier to tear. And while most times the goal is to tear muscle fibers, this tearing is negative. It limits athletic capacity instead of advancing it.
So What’s Myofascial Release?
Myofascial Release is a hands-on technique meant to release the pressure on the fascia. This allows it to once again have full mobility. And this full mobility means the muscles can move more freely, too.
Think of a massage. The masseuse drives his or her thumbs into your tense muscles. You feel pain, but as he moves his hands to another area of your body that area feels lighter. There are no more knots in the muscle. When you roll your shoulder, you can feel the bones moving under the skin. Suddenly, the muscle is free!
This is an example of myofascial release. With concentrated effort, the masseuse is applying pressure to the tense fascia. This direct pressure will release the tightened fascia because it moves and separates underneath the directly applied pressure (source linked here).
Benefits of Myofascial Release
If you’ve ever had tight muscles, then you know how debilitating it can be. Pressure on your low back makes it hard to bend over. Tight hamstrings make walking up and down stairs nightmarish. And tense shoulders makes writing, cooking, or anything hands-on painful.
Myofascial Release can solve many bodily problems. Some of them you probably didn’t even know were caused by tense fascia! But here are a few examples of what Myofascial Release can help with:
- Back Pain. Release that tense lower back by applying pressure right around the hips and the lower lumbar region.
- Bladder Problems. Unless your bladder issues are medically linked, it could be the tightness of the bladder and the surrounding organs making you need to pee. Releasing the pressure on the pelvic floor can return your bladder to normal functions.
- Bulging Spinal Discs. Bulging spinal discs are vertebra that has repeatedly been exposed to heavy lifting and trauma. The added pressure around any spinal area can shift a disc out of place and cause excessive pain, back tightness, and soreness. However, releasing the tension from the area via Myofascial Release can help to relieve symptoms and prevent future injuries.
- Carpal Tunnel. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a tightness in the forearms, wrists, and chest. It causes numbness in the hands and wrists and makes it difficult to type or write. Releasing the tension on the upper back, chest, and arms allow free movement of the fascia and prevent tightness.
- Fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is chronic pain associated with fatigue, problems sleeping, and touch sensitivity. However, careful application of Myofascial Release to the infected areas can help to release this tension.
This list is just a few examples of how Myofascial Release can aid in mobility and muscle soreness. For the full list, visit the link here.
Examples of Myofascial Release
As mentioned earlier, massages are a great way to release fascial tension. They’re also the most direct because pressure can be applied right to the infected area. Masseuses and massage therapists are trained to release the muscular and fascial tension from inflicted areas and can do so in either thirty or sixty minute.
There are also different degrees of massages. Deep tissue massages are more inclined toward myofascial release, while general massages tend more towards muscle spindle release. However, both are excellent tactics for relieving muscular tension. They’re also generally cost effective and worth the investment.
If you frequent any gym, they more than likely have a foam roller. Foam rollers are hard foam tubes, either 12″, 18″, or 24″ long. Essentially, foam rollers are used as a massage to release fascial tension of large muscle groups.
Foam rolling is meant to be done independently, which is why it is so popular among gyms. An individual simply lays the tense area over the foam roller and moves back and forth, rolling the tight muscle along the foam. By applying enough gravitational pressure, the fascia will start to move. However, foam rolling first attacks the muscle spindles and releases the tension from them. Consistent foam rolling will eventually release fascial tension by shifting it back to its original location along the muscles.
Foam rolling is also one of the cheapest methods of myofascial release. Sports equipment and online stores carry foam rollers for under $20. They also last a long time and are relatively transportable.
Cryotherapy and Ice Baths
image @ www.static1.squarespace.com
No one likes to be cold, especially not tense muscles. While cryotherapy will not immediately tackle the fascia, it’s a surefire way to alleviate tight muscle spindles.
Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC) is a generally new trend. An individual stands in a chamber for up to three minutes and is sprayed with air at subzero temperatures. The purpose of WBC is to stimulate skin sensors. This triggers a response from the Central Nervous System (CNS) to release endorphins that alleviate pain and elevate mood. It also increases blood circulation, which helps to decrease inflammation and remove toxins from the body (source linked here).
WBC is done at professional locations in some major cities. Look up your area to find cryotherapy centers near you!
Chiropractors are another great way to alleviate fascial tension. A chiropractor is a technician — some say, doctor, some refuse — specifically trained to target tense areas in the body. This is normally done by cracking backs, necks, and the like to release the tension surrounding the area. The relief is normally immediate.
Chiropractors may also use massage therapy and thermal practices, such as icy/hot patches. This helps to loosen the muscle spindles and the fascia before they tense further.
You’ve all heard that stretching is an important part of exercising. You can’t train a tense muscle because it’s more prone to injury. And you wouldn’t even want to train a tense muscle because it’s so limiting as it is.
Practicing Myofascial Release is a surefire way to make sure your muscles remain mobile and agile. Not only can it aid in exercise, but it also alleviates the pain of daily activities. So crack your neck, roll out our quadriceps, and be kind to your fascia.
Sol Ruiz heads our Research Digest department. He graduated from the New York University where he obtained his Master’s Degree in Public Health.