Exploring Massage Therapy: Myofascial Release (Part I)

On the more therapeutic side of massage therapy, many modalities exist that focus on specific health benefits. We have written before, for example, about acupressure, structural integration, and the effectiveness of massage therapy as a Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) treatment. The modality we’re looking at this week, myofascial release, is another massage therapy technique designed for a specific health benefit. In this way it is much more a therapeutic modality than one designed for relaxation.

In fact, myofascial release is a lot like structural integration (Rolfing) where the purpose of the modality is not to manipulate muscle groups but, rather, to manipulate the fascia that binds muscles together. Indeed, structural integration and myofascial release are often grouped together but, while structural integration features a forceful set of therapy sessions that focus on aligning deeper and deeper layers of the body’s fascia, myofascial release uses simpler techniques of structural integration to relieve superficial tension in the outer layers of fascia.

The ultimate goal of myofascial release is to manipulate areas of fascia and musculature in a specific way to relax contracted muscle groups, thereby increasing circulation and lymphatic drainage in those muscle groups and allowing them to move more naturally and effortlessly.

Myofascial release, therefore, requires specific training to build on more general principles of massage therapy. Specifically, therapists employing myofascial release will work tissues at a 30 to 45-degree angle, lengthening the fascia to correspond with the underlying muscle. Knowing how to pull the fascia to correspond with the pull of muscle fibers, and how those muscle fibers connect with bones and joints, requires a highly trained specialist.

While a lot of the technique and objectives of myofascial release are similar to other types of massage therapy (Rolfing for technique, Swedish massage (e.g. increased circulation) for objectives), the therapy has several uniques properties to it, which we’ll describe in our next posting.

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