Does your body always feel tight or sore? Are your neck, shoulders, back and even your head screaming for relief? If you’ve been looking for ways to ease the pain, myofascial release might be the answer.
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We promise it’s totally legit. If you’ve never heard of it, let’s start with the basics. We’ll allow chiropractor Chad Adams, DC, to explain.
“‘Myo’ is the shortened word for muscular tissue. ‘Fascia’ is a three-dimensional web of connective tissue that goes from the very superficial layers of muscular tissue to the very deep layers and all the way down to the bone,” says Dr. Adams.
He describes it as part of the body’s scaffolding. “It gives our bodies levers and fulcrums so we can move. If part of that system is compromised, we get less range of motion and less of an exchange of nutrition for the joints. We also increase our sensitivity to pain and increase our susceptibility to early onset of degeneration.” So, that tight neck or those frequent muscle spasms could lead to substantial and dangerous conditions like stenosis down the road.
What is myofascial release?
Myofascial release is a hands-on approach to managing pain and discomfort. Now don’t expect a gentle massage with aromatherapy and pan flute music. Instead, myofascial release can be an intense experience. During a session, a physical therapist, chiropractor or even massage therapist will massage, knead and gently stretch the muscles and fascia to work out knots. This bodywork technique also involves applying pressure to tight or sore areas to get them to relax. The pressure is applied with the therapist’s hands, elbows or a massage tool like a foam roller or a ball. You might feel sore afterward, but when the soreness subsides, you’ll feel a lot looser than you did before.
Parts of the body that could use myofascial release
This pain management technique is really good for parts of the body that are used a lot or in fixed positions for a long time. These areas include the:
- Lower back.
Benefits of myofascial release
When done regularly, you can:
- Improve your range of motion.
- Reduce soreness and help assist the tissue recovery process.
- Help the body relax overall.
- Improve circulation.
- Release tension, knots and even stress.
How to get started at home
If you’re working from home, you’re probably feeling the strain — and missing your office chair. The good news is, myofascial release can help if neck pain or tightness and headaches are getting the best of you. With a few simple techniques, you can ease the tension away right at home.
If you don’t feel comfortable going the self-care route, you can always consult with a professional beforehand to learn how myofascial release works. You can start with a few sessions and then work with your physical therapist, chiropractor or massage therapist to develop a home regimen.
For those who want to take the self-care route, you can find tutorials online for basic myofascial release techniques that you can do at home. For example, here is a helpful video from chiropractor Andrew Bang, DC, that gives you a better idea of what you can do to alleviate neck tension.
And if you’ve been carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders and need some relief, here is Dr. Adams demonstrating some myofascial release techniques for shoulder pain.
Consistency is key
Myofascial release isn’t the kind of thing that you can do casually. Dr. Adams emphasizes if you want the results to last, you have to do it every day.
“I do something every day whether I have pain or not. I scan every single joint of my body in as little as five minutes. And if I find that I have a couple of areas that are problematic, that’s what I focus on for that particular day.”
You might get started at home and think that you’re not really making a difference, but Dr. Adams stresses that it’s important to keep your routine going.
“My biggest recommendation is to be consistent, even if it’s only a couple of minutes a day. It will make a drastic difference in the long term.”
And once again, it’s going to be intense
In order to ease tightness or pain, you’re going to have to find the source. Dr. Adams recommends finding spots that are very tender and staying there for as long as it takes for those spots to release or loosen up. That time could be anywhere from two to five minutes.
“People will just jump on top of a foam roller, roll around for a couple of seconds and think they’ve gotten everything. But it really takes time and intention. So, when you find a place that has some tension or tightness, or it feels like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s the spot,’ stay there. You might have found the epicenter. And you might discover that the other spots around it will actually release or ease up after you’ve addressed the main problem.”
Recognize when you should back off
Myofascial release is not a competitive sport. You have nothing to prove to anyone and it isn’t about how much pain you can stand before you pass out. Instead of going all-in with the strongest tool you can find, start with something like a tennis ball and use it to gently roll out your muscles or to apply pressure to tight spots. If you don’t feel like the pressure is enough, try using a lacrosse ball. You can experiment and adjust accordingly. Whatever you do, don’t burn your money on expensive massage gadgets. Dr. Adams says you can get major relief from items that are less than $20.
If you feel sharp, shooting pain that doesn’t ease up while doing myofascial release at home, stop. At that point, contact a professional.
You’ll also want to avoid doing it if you’re on blood thinners or have the following:
- An underlying tumor.
- A metabolic condition.
- Open wounds.
- Weak/broken bones or fractures.
- Deep vein issues.
Dr. Adams stresses if you sense something is wrong or your pain isn’t getting any better, talk to a healthcare provider.
“You have to trust your intuition. For example, if it’s a chronic shoulder injury and you’ve tried a couple of things and nothing’s improved, you need to seek out a professional.”