Myofascial Release – Why should I be doing it, is it better than stretching?
To undertand the need for either modality and when to do either, I believe you need to know what each is doing and what you are mobilizing. The human body is made up of more than bone, muscle, tendon, blood and organs. What else is in the body? Let’s look at the phrase myofascial release and break it down to simpler terms. MYO – means muscle, FASCIAL = later on this, and RELEASE – yup you guessed it, relaxing something. So, what is this fascial thing? Well, it is a 3-dimensional web that covers our muscular system, organs, cells and cavities from head to toe. There are 3 different types, superficial (close to the skin) that is directly below the skin layer, deep covering the muscle, bone, organs, blood vessels and nerves, and finally there is the deepest type which is within the dura of the cranial sacral system. We are concerned with the superficial and the deep layer. The fascial system is an organ. It has a blood supply and is bound by the same mechanisms as all soft tissue. In other words it can bruise, tear, and affects our posture. A dysfunction to the fascial system can happen through trauma, prolonged postural positions, positional faults, and inflammation. These dysfunctions can cause tightening and adhesions. What are these? Well, you would see tightening as a postural change, so rounded shoulders, are not only from the pec, lat and subscapularis, oblique, rectus abdominus and serratus anterior tightness but also the facial net that surrounds the shoulder girdle, and the abdomen. Adhesions are those spots that you roll over that are excruciatingly painful. More on this in a minute. Tightening and adhesion cause:
- Mal alignments: pain and dysfunction
- Nerve and vascular entrapment: neurologic or ischemic disturbance
- Limited muscle length: limited strength and potential muscle contraction.
So what does this do to my body when the fascial net is compromised?
- Poor muscle biomechanics (positional faults)
- Altered structure alignment (postural changes)
- Decreased strength
- Decreased muscles endurance
- Decreased motor coordination
Stretching is an elongation of the muscle usually via a single joint motion that you hold for 30 seconds to 2 minutes. This is very beneficial but your timing of when you perform these stretches is just as important as the timing of your food post workout. If you stretch a cold system, ie, walking into the gym or box and just laying down and stretching various muscle you will not get the benefit you are looking for. The adhesions that are binding the fascial net and muscular system together will only stretch or elongate the soft t issue above and below the adhesion, thus increasing the stress to the soft tissue that is adhered and at times increasing the inflammatory process that creates more adhesions. This is why a light warm up and dynamic stretching is so important before you prepare for your workout. Increase the tissue temperature of the body, loosen some of the adhesions and dynamically move through immobile spots.
Is myofascial release beneficial and when should I use myofascial release? Should I stretch, I was told to stretch? Well yes, yes and yes. There is a benefit to all modalities that mobilize our soft tissue. So when is it optimal to do these modalities? So, before your classes you instinctively run, row, ride a bike or perform a DYNAMIC warm-up. Now, if you were to roll on the foam roller or PVC pipe just after a light warm-up, you would loosens those adhesions more efficiently because the tissue is warmed up and more malleable, increase the circulation and decrease the friction between the soft tissue. Then perform your workout. Now at the end of your workout, if you felt tighter in some areas and feel you need to open up the corners go back to the foam roller or PVC pipe then stretch the tissue with some dynamic or static stretches again. Watch your range of motion increase by leaps and bounds at the end of the workout. The downside to this is the memory of the fascial net, the muscular cross bridges and the collagen of the skin and matrix. The tissue will cool down and regain is normal resting length. But, if done daily you can make a consistent change to these soft tissues and feel the benefits of myofascial release, and stretching with improvements from positional faults, improved circulation and decrease in the onset of soreness.
Paul Poutouves, PT, DPT, OCS, ATC/L
Center Manager/ Physical Therapist