Myofascial Release: A Massage Technique for Tissue Relaxation

Myofascial release is one of the new therapies I’m trying now. The three sessions I’ve had have been mentally and physically relaxing. A severe migraine dropped to a mild headache after Saturday’s session. The relief only lasted an hour, but what a wonderful hour it was. I went into today’s session with a severe migraine and left with a mild one. Nearly three hours later, the pain is hovering between mild and moderate.

Never heard of myofascial release? Neither had I until a reader mentioned it to me. It’s a massage technique that uses friction and sustained pressure to release fascia. Fascia is a connective tissue that envelopes or binds internal body structures to support, separate and protect them.

Normal fascia is relaxed and stretches and moves easily. Injury, tight muscles, hunched shoulders and slouching contribute to tightening fascia. Effects are cumulative, so repetitive motions or bad posture stiffen fascia more and more over time. The therapy seeks to release the fascia, returning it to a relaxed state.

It may seem strange to target connective tissue to treat headaches. Is there anyone who has headaches or migraines, but completely relaxed muscles? Tight muscles indicate that fascia is tight, too. (That’s my take on it at least.)

Whether my constantly tight neck, jaw and shoulders is a result of my migraines or a trigger of them (or both), they are still sore. The therapy won’t cure my headache disorder, but it may reduce the intensity of my headaches. At the very least, it soothes the pain in my shoulders and neck.

As with nearly every alternative or complementary therapy, myofascial release is often called quackery. Whatever. It feels good and helps me unwind more than other types of massage ever have.

Physical therapist John F. Barnes, a practitioner and educator of the technique, has an in-depth explanation of myofascial therapy and fascia. (I know nothing about him as a practitioner or his clinics, but the explanation fits with what I’ve learned from my massage therapist.)