The Basics of Myofascial Release

Have you heard of the term myofascial release? How much do you really know about what you are doing when you beast yourself on the foam roller at the end of your workout? No pain, no gain right? Well before we unpick the bones of myofascial release (MFR), first let’s remind ourselves what all the fuss is about fascia.

Fascia is the fabric that holds you together. You are approximately 70 trillion cells existing in relative harmony and fascia is the protein structure that holds them all together. Historically fascia was an overlooked and underappreciated structure, viewed as the thing that was in the way of getting a good view of the muscles in the body. Anatomically it was defined as a specific flat, sheet-like structure which provided an attachment for several muscles in an area e.g. the thoracolumbar fascia. 

Current research now defines fascia as being all the collagenous-based soft tissues in the body including:

  • Tendons
  • Ligaments
  • Bursae
  • 3 layers of muscle fascia (endomysium, perimysium, epimysium)
  • Visceral fascia (around organs)
  • Neural fascia (around the central and peripheral nervous system)

Fantastic characteristics of fascia:

  • Dense regular collagen fibres formed in a web / net like structure
  • Connects every cell in the body with neighbouring structures
  • Stores cellular memory
  • Tensile strength similar to steel, able to withstand great tension and deformation
  • Responds instantaneously to external and internal stimuli
  • Separates each muscle bundle, giving the muscle structure and shape
  • In conjunction with muscles, it provides multi-directional tensioning throughout the body AKA “The Sling-Systems”, enhancing dynamic stability of the body
  • Plays a key role in functional core stability
  • Provides fluidity to motion
  • Elicits pain
  • Transfers kinetic energy, load and force through the entire musculo-skeletal system, known as tensegrity (Myers, 2009)

When things go wrong

Myofascial dysfunction is something that affects all of us, at some point in our lives, to a greater or lesser degree. Being a physiotherapist, it is something I see in clinic on a daily basis and I’m sure as a personal trainer it is something your path crosses too. Not sure? Ever heard of the phrase “It’s seen you, even if you haven’t seen it”? When an issue doesn’t resolve with the obvious e.g. calf tightness with calf stretches, then consider fascial involvement. Whether its lateral knee pain as a consequence of a lumbo-pelvic pathology, or elbow pain from a rib cage problem, MFR plays a significant role in rehabilitation and optimising function. I believe education and empowerment is key and teaching our individuals self manage techniques is crucial.

The Joy of MFR:

  • Reduction in pain
  • Increase in range of motion
  • Neutralisation of posture & alignment
  • Restoration of optimal myofascial length-tension relationships
  • Facilitates efficient movement and maximises function

There are specifically designed tools to help individuals MFR effectively. Be that using a specific massage ball to release the build up of tension around upper trapezius and levator scapulae or using the foam roller for releasing the gluteus medius and proximal hamstrings. Kineseology tape can be applied to ‘offload’ structures, redistributing forces and promoting healing of soft tissues.

There are many techniques and uses for these products. The basic principles of MFR are that pressure is applied for 30-45 seconds to tension/ trigger points in the myofacial system to release the tension. I like to call it ‘grateful pain’.

The key to effective use of these techniques is coupling them with complimenting exercises and having a strong understanding of current, functional anatomy. With that knowledge there will come the power to unlock one’s true potential to maximise their functional performance. Want to know more about how to do this? HFE deliver the UK’s leading Pilates instructor course, visit the website for more details.

If you’re still hungry for more detailed information on myofascial release, have a look at the long version article over at the HFE’s leading fitness blog.  


T.Myers (2009) cited in Myofascial Release Concepts; Session 28, HFE (2015)

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