Over the next few months I’m going to use this blog to explain some of the key differences between different types of massage. I’ll get to the common types like Swedish and deep tissue later, but today’s topic is a technique that can be effective and well-suited to certain situations: myofascial release massage.
The first thing to know about myofascial release is that, in spite of the name, it has nothing to do with the face! This technique involves treating problems with the fascia, which is pronounced FASH-ia (like fashion, not face).
The myofascial system
The fascial system is a web of thin tissue that covers your muscles and other organs (and, in some cases, runs through them) from your head almost to your toes. If you’ve heard of the foot pain condition called plantar fasciitis, that is an issue with the myofascial system. So just as the bones and muscles are part of a system, so is fascia. It’s just not as well known.
You might expect that this tissue is a solid covering, like a sausage casing. But if you look at it up close on a microscope, it looks more like a spider’s web made of jelly. While it looks delicate, the fascia is incredibly strong. Just how strong? Consider this: The tires on your car hold maybe 40 pounds per square inch of pressure; the fascia can hold up to 50 times that amount of pressure.
Ordinarily, the myofascial system does its job quietly, holding everything together. But when there’s a problem such as inflammation (swelling), twisting or compression, you will feel it — and not necessarily felt exactly at the site of a problem. Because the fascia covers a broad area and is so well connected, a problem in one area can cause pain or limit blood flow in a different area. Think of it like a wreck in Spaghetti Junction, where three interstates come together in downtown Louisville: a wreck on one of the roads affects traffic on all of them for miles around in both directions.