Therefore, maintaining a healthy mind and a healthy body are key to an athlete performing at the best of their ability. This highlights the importance of finding ways to care for the mind and the body while training and competing. The importance of finding a treatment methodology that considers all of the factors listed above that contribute to an athlete’s ability to perform well. That’s where myofascial release therapy (MFR) comes into play. Read along to learn about the many benefits MFR therapy has for athletes, and how it can improve athletic performance.
In its normal state, our fascia is relaxed and wavy. (2) It can stretch and move with no restrictions. But, under the intense physical demands that athletes endure, our fascia can become tight and restricted. This is often described as the fascia becoming “bound down” or adhered to the structures it is surrounding. It can be helpful to think of this adhering as a hardening, similar to how liquid water can harden to ice. When fascia becomes tight or restricted, it can change the way our bodies are able to function. Our balance, joint mobility, and stability may change. We may experience muscle knots, poor blood flow, numbness and tingling, as well as pain. This all can lead to a decrease in athletic capability and performance.
MFR therapists restore fascial health by applying gentle, sustained pressure to areas of restricted or “bound down” tissue. While this pressure is applied, the MFR therapist may also provide a gentle stretch. To imagine this approach, it can be helpful to envision the MFR therapist pulling on a piece of taffy with light and constant pressure. The sustained pressure and stretch are held until the restricted tissue starts to release. Although cellular changes in the tissue begin after 90 to 120 seconds, it usually takes sustaining the pressure and stretch for 5 to 7 minutes or more for a full release to occur. (3) This is due to something called the piezoelectric effect.
The piezoelectric effect is a chemical and electrical shift that occurs in the cells of the restricted fascial tissue. The pressure applied by the MFR therapist causes a chemical reaction to occur in our fascial tissue. This reaction is then converted by our cells into electrical charges. These charges have many benefits including pain relief, cellular regeneration, and tissue repair. Harnessing the piezoelectric effect is just one way MFR treatments differ from traditional massage therapy or physical therapy approaches. It is also what allows MFR treatments to enhance patient healing far more than other methods of care.
To better sense and respond to the needs of their patients, MFR therapists are typically slow and deliberate in their treatment. As MFR therapists align with their patients, they are better able to assess areas of restriction. Throughout the treatment, a MFR therapist will sense and follow the fascia as it releases.
Increases Range of Motion
MFR therapy has been shown to cause significant gains in joint range of motion post-treatment. (4) And, it does so without impeding muscle function. This combination leads to increased movement efficiency and decreased risk for injury. Some researchers suggest there may be added benefit to performing MFR treatments prior to any other therapeutic modality. The gains in joint range of motion achieved through MFR treatments can make other methods of care more effective.
It is not uncommon for athletes to experience acute pain and discomfort. This is often due to intense training, overuse, or even injury. If left untreated, acute pain can progress into pain that is chronic. And, chronic pain is much more complex to treat. Luckily, MFR therapy can help treat chronic pain and acute pain.
By releasing areas of restriction, MFR therapists restore health to our fascial tissue. This act alone can help decrease physical symptoms of pain. MFR therapists also approach patient care holistically. They will help you find and identify the root cause of your pain. Identifying the source of your discomfort leads to more effective treatments and longer-lasting pain relief.
To better imagine this, it may be helpful to think about what happens to our skin when it meets liquid glue. Adhered fascia is similar to dried glue – it makes whatever is beneath it stiff and challenging to move. When an MFR therapist releases fascial restrictions during treatment, they are restoring the proper function to both the fascial system and the muscular system. This balance allows our muscles to stretch and lengthen to the best of their ability.
For athletes, proper circulation is needed in order to perform well. And, it is important for muscle recovery and healing. Increased blood flow means more oxygen and nutrients are traveling throughout the body. And, more oxygen and nutrients means more fuel for our muscles – fuel that they need to function and recover well.
Poor posture and muscular imbalances cause our fascia to become restricted and adhered as it works to counteract our poor alignment. Over time, this body positioning will cause pain and increase an athlete’s risk for injury. Through MFR treatments, the fluidity and mobility of our fascial tissue can be restored. This restoration promotes proper posture and skeletal alignment which can amplify athletic performance.
MFR therapy recognizes that stress can be stored in the body as restricted fascia. MFR treatments help relieve stress directly by releasing fascial restrictions. They also help relieve stress by restoring balance in our nervous system.
It is common for athletes to experience high levels of stress. And, when we experience chronic stress our nervous system can become stuck in its ‘fight or flight’ mode. This can have a negative impact on a very important nerve in the body called the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is related to the part of our nervous system that promotes rest and relaxation. The vagus nerve and our fascia are also closely interconnected. By releasing restricted fascia, our vagus nerve is able to function properly. This can trigger a ripple effect of stress-reducing changes in the body which can help athletes approach stress-inducing challenges with ease.
MFR treatments invite patients to build deeper connections with their bodies by emphasizing the mind-body connection. During MFR treatments, patients have the opportunity to tune in to their bodies. As MFR therapists apply pressure and stretch, patients can become more aware of the position of their bodies in space. They can notice how their body and mind are responding to the treatment they are receiving.
This enhanced mind-body connection has many benefits for athletic performance. Improved body awareness can lead to improved coordination, balance, and stability. It also contributes to an athlete’s mental resilience. They may find themselves more equipped to perform well under times of pressure or stress.
MFR therapy offers a holistic approach that can be modified to fit the unique needs of each athlete. And, it’s a one-stop-shop for restoring and improving the strength, stability, mobility, balance, coordination, and mental resilience athletes need to perform well. In this way, MFR treatments become a valuable tool for athletes who are looking to hone their athletic capabilities and improve their overall performance, all while reducing their pain and risk of injury.
If you’re considering adding MFR therapy to your treatment regimen, it is essential to work with a certified MFR therapist. They will be able to assess your needs and create a customized treatment plan to help you achieve optimal results. Get in touch with a certified MFR therapist today to learn more.
- Juett, T & Barnes, J. F. (1988). An introduction for the patient.
- Elliott, J. (2003). Easing pain with myofascial release. News-line for Physical Therapists & PT-Assistants.
- Murphy, J. (n.d.) Myofascial release proves beneficial in acute and sports medicine settings.
- Ajimsha, M. S., Al-Mudahka, N. R., & Al-Madzhar, J. A. (2015). Effectiveness of myofascial release: systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Journal of bodywork and movement therapies, 19(1), 102–112.