Kristen Pitts, MSPT
May 7, 2012
Have you asked yourself the following questions? “Why do my muscles still feel tight after I have stretched? Why does my massage only provide temporary relief from my pain and tightness?” While the human body is a very complex system with many factors contributing to pain and stiffness, one area of soft tissue restriction that is often overlooked is the myofascial system.
Myo means muscle, and fascia is a connective tissue. The myofascial tissue is a system of connective tissue surrounding muscles and connecting them to bones. Fascia also spread throughout the body, creating a three dimensional web of connective tissue that extends from head to foot without interruption. The fascia surrounds every muscle, bone, blood vessel, nerves, and organs. Inflammation or trauma can cause dysfunction and restrictions in the fascia and create abnormal tension on the muscles. As a result, the fascia is restricted and gives a sense of tightness, despite repeated muscular stretches and massage.
Myofascial release addresses these abnormal fascial restrictions that are embedded in the muscles. While traditional stretching involves firm stretching of a very short hold duration, the myofascial release approach focuses on mild, prolonged stretches that allow the fascia to relax. The collagen fibers in fascia have a tensile strength of 2000 lbs per square inch and cannot be stretched with fast, hard stretches. The fascial tissue does, however, move with a slow, sustained pressure over time, much like Silly Putty or taffy will elongate with gentle stretch. The stretches usually need to be sustained for 1 ½ to 2 minutes each to allow more permanent changes to take place in the collage fibers. Often times, patients will report that it didn’t feel like the Physical Therapist was doing much while stretching with myofascial release, but later they felt much looser from this kind of stretching.
By neglecting the myofascial system, we often see ineffective results with stretching and traditional massage alone. Myofascial release is not the answer to all aches and pains, but certainly needs to be incorporated into a comprehensive physical therapy treatment plan including exercise, modalities, body mechanics training, and traditional massage.
If you are finding your stretching to be ineffective in relieving your sense of muscular tightness, myofascial release may need to be incorporated into your regime. While this is a highly specialized area of Physical Therapy, it is worthwhile to seek out a physical therapist who has been trained in this specialty. At Pain Care Medical Group, we are able to provide you with a comprehensive physical therapy program individually tailored to each patient that includes myofascial release, exercise, and modalities to alleviate your stubborn and often troublesome symptoms.