Myofascial Release Therapy
Fascia is a sheet or band of fibrous connective tissue that surrounds, separates, and helps bind together muscles, organs, and many soft structures within the body. Myofascial release therapy is based on the understanding that fascia surrounds muscles in a way much like a tightly-woven net or sweater. Each fiber is connected to those surrounding it and therefore they affect each other both positively and negatively. Normal fascia is able to relax, stretch, constrict, and move in a painless fashion. When injury occurs, the fascia bunches up in response and becomes tight and restricted in its movement. The fibers surrounding the area of injury react, as do those that are connected to them, due to the dense arrangement of fascial fibers.
Many researchers, doctors, and therapists believe the tightness within the fascia restricts the movement of the muscle and related tissues, thereby resulting in pain and loss of motion. Trauma, poor posture, stress, inflammation, and injury may all contribute to this fascial tightness. Some researchers have even suggested that inflammation of the fascia may be one of the primary causes of the increased pain sensitization that is the hallmark symptom of Fibromyalgia (Liptan, 2010).
Myofascial release therapy is a subset of massage therapy in which the therapist uses sustained pressure in order to release tightness in the fascia, or connective tissues, between muscles. The therapist locates the areas of fascia that appear to be restricted and measures the resulting loss in range of motion that has occurred. Treatment sessions generally last around an hour and involve the gentle application of pressure, or a low-load stretch, to the affected area. An individual’s progress with this therapy is gauged by measuring the resulting increases in range of motion and function, as well as any subsequent decreases in pain.
If you are interested in trying myofascial release therapy as part of your treatment regimen for Fibromyalgia, be sure and consult a therapist who has been trained in the technique itself. A nationwide directory of therapists can be found by visiting the following website: http://mfr.somapt.com/
There is some evidence to support the use of myofascial release therapy as a treatment for Fibromyalgia. A 2011 study by Castro-Sanchez et al. sought to determine if massage-myofascial release therapy could improve pain, anxiety, sleep quality, depression, and overall quality of life in patients with Fibromyalgia. Using a randomized-controlled study (a study design regarded as the “gold standard” for research study design), the researchers randomly assigned 64 Fibromyalgia patients to receive either the experimental therapy (massage-myofascial therapy) or a control/sham therapy (using a disconnected magnetic therapy machine). Each subject’s pain was assessed using a device that placed pressure on various parts of the subject’s body and measured their response to the pain, as well by having each subject rate their pain on a scale from 0 to 10. Questionnaires were used to determine anxiety levels, depression, quality of sleep, and overall quality of life. All measures were made before the study began and at the end of the 20 week intervention period. Follow-up measures were also taken at one and six months following completion of the study.
The experimental group received massage-myofascial release therapy 90 minutes a week for twenty weeks. The control group underwent a weekly session using a disconnected magnet therapy machine, 30 minutes per week for 20 weeks. These subjects were unaware that they were receiving a sham treatment.
Immediately following treatment and at one month, anxiety, sleep, pain, and quality of life were all greatly improved for the experimental group but not for the control group; however, the only differences that persisted between the groups at the six month follow-up period was the improvement in sleep quality for the experimental group (Castro-Sanchez et al., 2011a).
Another recent study led by Castro-Sanchez also found similar results in 86 Fibromyalgia patients who were randomly assigned to myofascial release therapy or sham ultrasound electrotherapy. After 20 weeks of treatment, the subjects in the experimental group for this study also showed significant improvements in painful tender points, pain assessments, and physical function. Many of these differences persisted for as long as one year following completion of the study (Castro-Sanchez et al., 2011b).