Pain is deeply complex. It impacts and is influenced by every aspect of our well-being. Things like past experiences, emotional health, and body awareness can all play a role in how we perceive pain. Because of this, no one person experiences pain quite like another. So, pain is best treated with an approach that is holistic and individualized. Myofascial release (MFR) therapy is one such approach. Read along to learn more about the complexities of pain and how MFR can be a powerful tool in its treatment.
Pain is often split into two categories: acute or chronic. Which category your pain falls into is determined by how long it has been around. Acute pain is pain that appears suddenly and has a specific cause. (1) For example, you fall and scrape your knee. You feel pain almost instantly, and it is mildly intense. Over the next few days, this pain begins to mellow into a dull ache. A week following the incident, you have no pain at all.
Another example of acute pain would be sudden and sharp lower, right-sided abdominal discomfort. This pain prompts you to go to the doctor, and you discover that your appendix is inflamed. Your body used the pain to signal potential danger or threat. So, acute pain is pain that appears suddenly, has a cause, is a warning sign that the body could be in danger, and lasts a short period of time.
Many approach treating chronic pain by only treating our physical symptoms. But as you can see, many factors beyond our physical health can contribute to the pain we experience. The risk factors mentioned above highlight how all dimensions of our holistic health influence how we experience and perceive pain. And, how complex chronic pain can be. Given the complexity of pain, it is crucial to find a treatment methodology that considers one’s holistic health. Let’s dive a bit deeper into MFR therapy and how its approach does just that.
When our fascial health is compromised, it can become tight or restricted. This is often described as the fascia becoming “bound down”, or adhered to the structures it is surrounding. Tight or restricted fascia can cause changes in the mobility and stability of our bodies.
You may be wondering how fascia can become tight or restricted. Fascia can become “bound down” in multiple ways. Just as our perception of pain is influenced by a variety of factors, so is our fascial health. Examples of physical factors that can contribute to restricted fascia include trauma, such as injury or surgery, poor posture, and inflammation. Mental factors, such as emotional trauma, can show up in the body as tightened fascial tissue. Stress, for example, can actually be embodied as adhered fascia.
The prolonged, sustained pressure and stretch of MFR treatments is purposeful and intentional. After 90 to 120 seconds, a chemical shift occurs in the cells of the restricted fascial tissue. This chemical shift causes electrical charges to occur. This reaction and production of electrical charges is called the piezoelectric effect. (4) The charges that occur during the piezoelectric effect have many benefits including pain relief, cell regeneration, and tissue repair. By harnessing the piezoelectric effect, MFR treatments further enhance patient healing.
MFR practitioners use a slow and deliberate approach in their treatment sessions. This approach allows them to better sense and respond to the needs of their patients. This ability to sense the needs of patients is sometimes referred to as “resonance”, or the melding of the practitioner and patients’ energies. According to John F. Barnes, the leading expert in the field of MFR, this resonant state is where true healing occurs. By tapping into resonance, an MFR practitioner can sense and follow the fascia as it releases. This gives the practitioner access to the deepest levels of restriction, and the opportunity to heal the root cause of their patient’s pain and discomfort.
MFR therapy creates long-term changes in the fascial tissue of our bodies. This alone can help alleviate symptoms of pain. But, due to its holistic lens, MFR can help us mitigate many of the other factors associated with chronic pain as well. Here are just a few of the ways MFR can be used to treat chronic pain:
Improved fascial mobility: The sustained pressure and stretch an MFR practitioner provides will help stimulate the release of restricted fascia. This release will help alleviate symptoms of physical pain. Additionally, the hands-on approach of MFR treatments furthers the healing capabilities of MFR. Hands-on therapeutic techniques stimulate the release of the body’s own pain-relieving hormones, such as endorphins. These hormones communicate with our nervous system and help alleviate feelings of pain and discomfort. Hands-on care also helps stimulate blood flow. This increase in circulation promotes tissue regeneration and recovery.
Improved posture: When we are practicing poor posture, the structures of the body have to work in ways they aren’t meant to work. Certain muscles may become overworked while others become underworked. Our fascia can become restricted and adhered as it works to counteract our poor alignment. Over time, this poor body positioning will cause pain and increase our risk for injury.
Through MFR treatments, the fluidity and mobility of our fascial tissue can be restored. This restoration promotes proper posture and allows us to regain proper alignment in our bodies. In doing so, it also decreases our pain.
Improved mental health: When we are stressed, the branch of our nervous system that helps prepare us for potential threats, our sympathetic nervous system, is chronically activated. When this occurs, our perception of pain is actually heightened. This means you will likely feel more pain on the days you are stressed when compared to the days you are not. To help break this feedback loop between stress and pain, it is important to activate the part of our nervous system that allows us to rest and relax.
MFR treatments stimulate our vagus nerve. The vagus nerve activates the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, which is the part of our nervous system that focuses on rest and relaxation. Stimulating the vagus nerve not only improves our mental well-being, but assists in pain relief as well. Studies have found that the vagus nerve communicates with multiple regions in the brain that are involved in pain processing. (6) By stimulating this nerve, we can help modulate the way our brains perceive pain. Additionally, stress can appear in the body as tight, restricted, or adhered fascia. By releasing fascia through MFR treatments, patients can feel a physical and a mental release of both stress and pain.
Enhanced body awareness: MFR treatments invite patients to build deeper connections with their bodies by emphasizing the mind-body connection. During MFR treatments, patients become more in tune to their bodies. They become more aware of the position of their bodies in space as the practitioner applies pressure and stretch. They start to notice how their body and mind are responding to the treatment they are receiving.
Developing body awareness can assist a variety of health conditions, but especially chronic pain. (6) We are better equipped to sense the root cause of our pain when practicing body awareness. And, we can approach healing from a place of curiosity rather than judgment.
An MFR practitioner will not only treat the physical symptoms of your pain. Instead, they will help you find and identify the root cause. In doing so, you will experience greater relief that is both expansive and long-lasting. If you are interested in learning more about MFR or would like to get started with care, find a certified MFR practitioner near you.
- Lavand’homme, P. (2011). The progression from acute to chronic pain. Current Opinion in Anesthesiology, 24(5), 545-550.
- Mills, S. E. E., Nicolson, K. P., & Smith, B. H. (2019). Chronic pain: a review of its epidemiology and associated factors in population-based studies. British journal of anaesthesia, 123(2), e273–e283. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bja.2019.03.023
- Barnes, M. (1997). The basic science of myofascial release: morphologic change in connective tissue. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 1(4), 231–238. https://doi.org/10.1016/s1360-8592(97)80051-4
- Barnes, J. F. (2008). Myofascial release: The missing link in traditional treatment. Complementary therapies in rehabilitation: Evidence for efficacy in therapy, prevention, and wellness. (C. Davis, Ed.). http://ci.nii.ac.jp/ncid/BA9092574X
- Shao, P., Li, H., Jiang, J., Guan, Y., Chen, X., & Wang, Y. (2023). Role of vagus nerve stimulation in the treatment of chronic pain. Neuroimmunomodulation, 10.1159/000531626. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1159/000531626
- van der Maas, L. C., Köke, A., Bosscher, R. J., Twisk, J. W., Janssen, T. W., & Peters, M. (2016). Body Awareness as an Important Target in Multidisciplinary Chronic Pain Treatment: Mediation and Subgroup Analyses. The Clinical journal of pain, 32(9), 763–772. https://doi.org/10.1097/AJP.0000000000000320
- Zajacova, A., Grol-Prokopczyk, H., & Zimmer, Z. (2021). Pain Trends Among American Adults, 2002-2018: Patterns, Disparities, and Correlates. Demography, 58(2), 711–738. https://doi.org/10.1215/00703370-8977691