Myofascial Release: What is the difference?

Used with permission from author Joni Edmunds, DPT

All myofascial release is the same, right? If this were true, finding a myofascial release therapist would be easy! However, the myriad of classes and certifications offered to therapists all under the name of ‘myofascial release’ means there can be differences between practitioners’ treatments.

With any topic, I like to find the original source, assuming that this leads me to the purest version available. A search for the source of modern-day myofascial release leads us straight to John F. Barnes, American physical therapist (physiotherapist). Finding John may take a bit of sifting through other styles and versions of myofascial release, but a thorough search pays off. Here’s what we discover: Real myofascial release, as taught by John since the 1960’s, incorporates three major myofascial techniques in conjunction with one another – structural release, rebounding, and unwinding. Understanding each component will help you to know if you are getting ‘real’ myofascial release treatment from your therapist.

1. Myofascial Structural Release – waiting for the melt!
Structural release involves applying gentle, sustained pressure into areas of tightness, restriction, or pain and waiting for your body to release. Never forceful, pressures are applied to gently reach the barrier of the tissue restriction. At first, you will feel an elastic or springy give and this is fool’s gold. It feels like a release. It feels like a bit of change. However, the tissue will just spring back once the pressure is disengaged. Why? This ‘fool’s gold’ is the elastic component of the tissue giving way. The only way to experience a lasting change in the tissue is to wait. Additional time spent holding the pressure (beyond 3-5 minutes for each restriction!) enables your connective tissue to fully ‘melt’ and lengthen. Science is telling us that there is yet another benefit to waiting long enough to allow for a phase change in the tissue. Beyond 5 minutes, your body will begin producing interleukin, which is a natural anti-inflammatory! This response is only elicited when pressure is sustained and uninterrupted – no rubbing, poking, manipulating, or bouncing!
It is critical to note that structural myofascial release can only be performed on dry skin. Using oils or creams during treatment means the therapist is sliding on your skin and therefore unable to properly sustain pressures that release and melt restrictions in your body.

2. Myofascial Unwinding – untangling knots!
Everyone has an innate ability to self-correct tension, postural imbalances, and tissue restrictions through natural, intuitive movement! When you first wake up in the morning and have that urge to yawn and roll and stretch a bit before hopping out of bed, you are experiencing a snippet of your body’s self-correction mechanism. Similarly, when you’ve been sitting at the computer for too long and feel the urge to reach your arms up over your head and arch your upper back over the back of the chair getting a nice stretch through your arms, chest and shoulders, you are unwinding. With the help of a therapist to support your body and minimise the effect of gravity, your body can stretch and move for more than a quick snippet which takes the unwinding to a deeper level to thoroughly clear your body of stress, holding patterns, and tension!

3. Myofascial Rebounding – waves of release!
Remember getting rocked by mom or grandma as an infant or young child? What about the gentle wave that moves through your body when you’re floating on a raft in the water? Doesn’t it feel soothing and luxurious? Our grandparents intuitively followed the patterns of nature to offer a therapeutic experience to us as infants. We are approximately 75% fluid, and when rocked, an internal wave of motion and energy begins to form and move through the fluid inside our bodies. If the rocking is gently sustained and continued over time, as with rebounding, this fluid motion perpetuates and begins to reach and affect the solidified areas of our bodies. This wave gently starts to invade those tight, restricted areas giving opportunity for softening just as waves at the beach gently erode away the shoreline. With rebounding, every cell of your body can be reached, even the denser structures such as your bones, by this profound fluid wave. Rebounding is also helpful for accessing and clearing out those habitual holding and bracing patterns which hang out in our bodies due to a buildup of stress and trauma. Feel like you’re in a cycle of feeling better after treatment but the tension and tightness just comes back? Rebounding may be the missing piece that can eradicate bracing and holding patterns to eliminate the cycle of chasing symptoms!

Real myofascial release incorporates these three skills during treatment to offer a whole-body approach and effective results with changes that last! Feeling like your body is being forced? Is your practitioner using oils or creams? Have you experienced the gentle rocking of rebounding during treatment? Ready to take your healing journey to a whole new level?

  • located at Central Wellness in Pearl River, NY