What is Myofascial Release?
Updated: Aug 11
What does the term “Myofascial” mean and how does it affect you?
The prefix “myo” means muscle and “fascia” is Latin for “a band, bandage, or bundle”. When you hear Myofascial it literally means “bundles of muscle”. When things are bundled together, especially in the human body, they are connected and interwoven.
If we look at the image below we see the anatomical diagram of a single muscle. At it's smallest level it is made up of a single muscle fiber. Surrounding individual muscle fiber is a layer of connective tissue called the endomysium. Groups of muscle fibers are together into a fascicle. Surrounding these fascicles is another layer of connective tissue called the perimysium. Groups of fascicles bundle together to form an entire muscle which; you guessed it, is surrounded by ANOTHER layer of connective tissue called the epimysium. That muscle is attached to the bone by connective tissue called a tendon.
The human body has over 600 muscles inside of it. The picture above is of one single muscle and we see how many layers of connective tissue involved in supporting and protecting it. Now let's look at the Muscle Man anatomy diagram.
In this picture we see the muscles of the human body. Having seen how connective tissue holds a single muscle together, I now hope you start to gain a deeper appreciation for the role connective tissue plays in the body.
What is connective tissue?
Any tissue that connects, supports, binds or separates other tissues or organs. Fascia is connective tissue. Try to imagine it as a spider web that weaves its way around your entire body to provide connection, protection and support.
Connective tissue is responsible for:
Binding and supporting
Storing reserve fuel
Transporting substance within the body
Can be further broken down into 3 types:
Loose connective tissue – holds organs in place
Dense connective tissue – this is what tendons and ligaments are made from. Tendons attach muscles to bone. Ligaments attach bone to bone. Muscles contract to provide movement throughout the body. Ligaments provide stability within the body
Specialized connective tissue – adipose(fat), cartilage, bone, blood and lymph
Connective Tissue Fibers
There are two main types of connective tissue fibers that are involved in Myofascial Release, stretching or exercise:
Elastic Fibers – are flexible tissues that allow for stretching and compression but will return to original length shortly after.
Collagen Fibers – are much less flexible tissue that provide great strength and are stretch resistant.
Why haven’t you heard about connective tissue or fascia before?
Most of the information science learns about anatomy comes from the study of cadavers. When these cadavers are used for medical research, they are all dehydrated and dried up. The fascial webbing that is connective tissue is made up of 70% fluid so it is no longer visible on a cadaver.
It's all connected
You remember that song "Dem Bones" we used to sing in school to learn about the bones of the body? "The hip bone is connected to the back bone, the back bone is connected to the shoulder bone...". That song was telling us how each bone is connected throughout the body. One bone on top of each other, head to toe. The myofascial system connects EVERYTHING in the body together in a 360 degree interwoven web of connective tissue.
How does Myofascial Release work?
Myofascial Release uses gentle sustained pressure to manipulate myofascial restrictions throughout the body. The biggest factor in these treatments is the time element. These techniques take a minimum of 5 minutes to work.
Why 5 minutes?
Any type of stretch or manipulation held for long periods of time targets BOTH the elastic and collagen fibers. This will have a long term effect. It has been shown that holding a stretch for upwards of 10-15 minutes will be more effective in altering the length of muscle fibers. (Factors That Influence the Efficacy of Stretching Programs for Patients With Hypomobility by Cale A. Jacobs, PhD, and Aaron D. Sciascia, MS, ATC, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3445223/).
What is a fascial restriction?
Areas of tension or tightness that are caused by trauma, surgery, repetitive motions, postural dysfunctions or a thwarted inflammatory response. When the body experiences any of these the normally fluid and dynamic fascia starts to solidify and become like glue.
•Myofascial restrictions can exert tremendous tensile forces on nerves, muscles and the skeleton; this pressure can reach up to 2,000 pounds per square inch.
•Myofascial restrictions do NOT show up on any of the standard tests such as X-rays, CAT scans or electromyography.
These facts can be very illuminating and hopeful for people experiencing pain with no apparent cause. If you have ever heard "there is nothing wrong with you, it's all in your head", Myofascial Release can be very helpful in your journey towards living a pain free life.