Myofascial Release (MFR): An Overview

Mary Hughes, PT, DPT
Integrative Care Center

Understanding Myofascial Release (MFR)

Myofascial Release (MFR) is a holistic, therapeutic approach to manual therapy, popularized by John Barnes, PT, LMT, NCTMB. MFR offers a comprehensive approach for the evaluation and treatment of the myofascial system, the system of tissues and muscles in the body.

This technique is designed to release restrictions such a trigger points, muscle tightness, and dysfunctions in soft tissue that may cause pain and limit motion in all parts of the body. It has shown success in decreasing pain and increasing mobility. (1)

The main tissue that MFR focuses on for release in the myofascial system is the fascia. Fascia is a fine tissue that surrounds all structures in the body including muscles, nerves, vessels, and bones. MFR allows the therapist to evaluate, identify, and treat fascial restrictions. These restrictions can be caused by numerous factors, such as trauma, musculoskeletal conditions, repetitive stress syndrome, and poor posture.

By applying gentle, hands-on techniques to the whole body, positive structural changes may occur, such as increased range of motion, decreased pain, and, most importantly, increased fascial mobility. (2) In combination with traditional physical therapy, MFR can help patients return to their daily and recreational activities.

Who Might Benefit from MFR

MFR can be used to treat pain and increase mobility in patients with a wide range of conditions, including back pain, neck pain, and fibromyalgia.

Athletes can also benefit. A number of sports injuries can be treated with MFR, including:

  • Repetitive strain injuries, often seen in long distance runners
  • Muscular imbalances, which lead to overuse in isolated joints and faulty movement patterns (3)

There are also increasing numbers of athletes that have found MFR to be helpful in regaining proper pelvic alignment, which in turn leads to optimal competitive performance. (4)

Contraindications

MFR may not be appropriate for all patients. Contraindications for MFR include – but are not limited to – those with malignancy, aneurysm, acute rheumatoid arthritis, advanced diabetes, severe osteoporosis, and healing fractures. (2) Your physician and physical therapist can help determine whether or not MFR is an appropriate course of treatment for you.

What to Expect

During your first appointment the therapist will perform an initial evaluation, a comprehensive systems review, and musculoskeletal physical exam to ensure that MFR is appropriate for you. Evaluations include a postural assessment and strength and range of motion testing.

During your first MFR treatment, it is common for the therapist to position you on your back on a treatment table to allow your body and mind to relax. The majority of MFR work consists of gentle pressure. Sometimes the motion is very fluid, and at other times your limbs may be held in a light stretch. The therapist may begin on the area in which you are currently experiencing pain. However, that is not always the case, as pain can often be referred from different parts of the body.

You may experience some slight discomfort as your tissues release tension. While many patients leave a MFR session feeling very relaxed, it’s not uncommon for there to be some residual muscle soreness. The soreness is "thought to result from postural and alignment changes or from the techniques themselves." (1)

Over time, your therapist will show you how to practice MFR techniques yourself at home, using foam rollers, a tennis or Myo-Release Ball™, and/or massage sticks.

Myofascial Release at the Integrative Care Center

Contact the HSS Integrative Care Center at 212.224.7900 to learn more and find out if Myofascial Release is right for you.


References
1. Dutton, Mark. Orthopaedic examination, evaluation, & intervention. New York : McGraw-Hill, c2004 pages 331-332, 1218
2. John Barnes’ Courses completed MFR I, MFR 2, Myofascial Unwinding, Myofascial Soft Tissue Mobilization workshop.
3. Taylor, D. Dealing with Muscular Imbalances around the Lumbo-Pelvic-Hip-Joint Retrieved January 22, 2012 from
Athlete Acceleration.com
4. Leigh, J.
How Myofascial Release can help athletes achieve optimum performance Retrieved January 22, 2012
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