October 23, 2022

Myofascial Release: How It Helps Relieve Pain

Use this hands-on approach to manage pain and discomfort

therapist applying myofascial release to back of patient

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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Myo what?!?

We promise it’s totally legit. If you’ve never heard of it, let’s start with the basics.

“‘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 chiropractor Chad Adams, DC.

He describes it as part of the body’s scaffolding.

“It gives our bodies levers and fulcrums so we can move,” he says. “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.

Dr. Adams explains how myofascial works and techniques to try.

What is myofascial release?

Myofascial release (not myofacial 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 myofascial massage session, a physical therapist, chiropractor or even massage therapist will massage, knead and gently stretch your muscles and fascia to work out knots.

How does it work?

Myofascial therapy 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.

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It’s really good for parts of the body that are used a lot or in fixed positions for a long time. These areas include your:

  • Neck.
  • Shoulders.
  • Arms.
  • Head.
  • Jaw.
  • Lower back.
  • Hips.
  • Quads.
  • Calves.
  • Feet.

In order to ease tightness or pain during a myofascial release, 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,” explains Dr. Adams. “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.”

Techniques

Myofascial release can help if neck pain or tightness and headaches are getting the best of you. With a few simple myofascial release techniques, you can ease the tension away right at home.

For pain that runs down one side of your neck:

  1. Take your thumb or fingers and follow the line of pain down the back of your head and neck.
  2. Apply slight pressure as you work your way down repeatedly until the pain is gone. “I want you to push with moderate force,” says Dr. Adams. “You should cringe a little.”

For neck pain you can pinpoint:

  1. Use your hands and press down on the area that hurts.
  2. You should apply pressure for about a minute.
  3. Roll your neck from one side to the other, then switch directions. Repeat three times in each direction. “You should be able to do this comfortably,” says Dr. Adams. “It should not hurt.”

And if you’ve been carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders and need some relief, try these techniques for shoulder pain:

For pain that starts at your shoulder and travels down your arm:

  1. Use your thumb to apply pressure to the area of pain. “Use moderate pressure and drag your thumb down the line of pain,” says Dr. Adams.
  2. Repeat five to six times.

For shoulder pain you can pinpoint:

  1. Grip your shoulder with your entire hand.
  2. Use your thumb to apply pressure. “Use moderate pressure to push into the tissue that hurts,” says Dr. Adams. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds.

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.

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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.

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.

Myofascial release isn’t the kind of thing that you can do casually. Dr. Adams emphasizes that 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,” he says. “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,” he says. “It will make a drastic difference in the long term.”

Dr. Adams advises that 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,” he says. “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.”

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