Myofascial Release Therapy

What it is and the two schools of thought

Myofascial release therapy is a combination of sustained pressure and stretching techniques that are intended for pain relief, increased range of motion, and bringing balance to the body.

These goals are achieved by manipulating and releasing tension from the fibrous bands of connecting tissue throughout the body, thus allowing for the tissue to reorganize and ultimately heal itself.

History of Myofascial Release Therapy

The term “myofascial” was first used in the 1940s by Dr. Janet G. Travell while referring to musculoskeletal pain syndromes and trigger points. She then started using the term “Myofascial Trigger Point” in 1976 to address specific hotspots that could be targeted with therapy. The term “Myofascial Therapy” or “Myofascial Trigger Point Therapy” was finally sealed into medical history with the release of Dr. Travell’s reference book, “Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual,” in 1983.

Two Schools of Myofascial Release Therapy

There are currently two schools of myofascial release therapy, namely the “direct” and “indirect” approaches. Under the direct approach, practitioners address the restricted fascia by using knuckles, elbows, or other tools to stretch and release the tissue. The direct manipulation of this tissue is said to provide natural pain relief and greater range of motion as the tissues realign in a more flexible and functional fashion.

This technique was traditionally practiced by physical therapy students and by those enrolled in osteopathy school in the early- and mid-1900s. However, the 1990’s saw an industry-wide acceptance of the technique, and it is now embraced by massage therapists, chiropractors, rheumatologists, and other advocates of holistic medicine.
Alternatively, the second technique is known as “indirect” myofascial release therapy. Using this approach, a therapist addresses trigger points using a gentle stretch and light pressure to allow the fascia to ‘unwind’ itself.

Furthermore, as the fascia unwinds, the area is supplied with heat and increased blood flow – which is said to aid in the self-correction and healing process. 

Indirect myofascial release was also studied by physical therapy and osteopathy students in the mid-1900s. Similar to direct myofascial release therapy, indirect myofascial release was also picked up and embraced in the 80s and 90s by occupational therapists, physical therapists, holistic doctors, and traditional massage therapists.

Candidates for Myofascial Release Therapy

Myofascial release therapy is recommended for individuals who suffer from poor posture, physical injuries, chronic illness, and emotional stress. It is also said to help specific conditions such as back pain, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, PMS, incontinence, tennis elbow, sprains and strains, arthritis, accident related injuries, whiplash, carpel tunnel syndrome, cerebral palsy, and muscle spasms.

Acceptance from the Mainstream Massage Therapy Community

Today, courses in myofascial release therapy are offered in most mainstream massage schools across the country. Courses in myofascial release therapy can range from 20-hour programs completed over several days to more intense programs that can last up to a year.

Basically, myofascial massage therapy is seen an additional way to address chronic pain and illness in traditional massage therapy circles. For this reason, training in myofascial release is recommended for massage therapists who want to work in conjunction with physical therapists and medical professionals in the treatment of accident and injury patients.

Unfortunately, the only community that has not fully embraced myofascial release therapy is the mainstream medical community. This is due primarily to the fact that fascia restrictions are not detected by traditional imaging methods such as MRI or X-rays. This, coupled with the lack long-term studies on the subject, has left many health practitioners skeptical of myofascial release therapy’s long-term benefits and potential repercussions.

Getting Started with a Myofascial Release Therapy Certification Program

Courses in myofascial release therapy can be completed as a part of a traditional 300-500 hour massage therapy program or as part of continuing education courses for current massage therapists. Some programs are even offered online through distance learning courses for a student’s ultimate convenience.

Although the mainstream medical community has yet to embrace myofascial release therapy as an alternative for pain relief, the practice is very much in demand for massage students that seek to work with physical therapy patients or alternative healing physicians. When certified in the field, massage therapists can increase their income and client list considerably.