Myofascial release is a therapy that works to release restrictions and trigger points that have formed in fascia and are contributing to chronic pain conditions. Most people think of it as hands-on therapy, but the beauty of myofascial release is that you can also do this for yourself through stretches or exercises using simple tools such as balls.
In its natural state, fascia is a complex three-dimensional web of free-moving structural tissue that constantly shapes and reshapes itself in response to our movements and the demands we make on it. When healthy, fascia moves fluidly and seamlessly to distribute tension and maintain balance in the body.
However, fascia can suffer accident or injury or be damaged in some other way, for example by surgery. When this happens, the fascial web can snag and lose its flexibility and ability to move freely. This causes fascial restrictions and trigger points to form, and it is these that can lead to chronic pain. Other major causes of fascial restrictions are the overuse and underuse of our bodies associated with modern lifestyles, and psychological stress and trauma.
Self-help myofascial release is an effective way of helping yourself out of chronic pain as it progressively allows your body to release and rebalance. We call it the ‘slow fix’ because it takes time for your body to undo itself. Working regularly with your fascia can bring long term benefits of improved balance and posture, as well as decreasing pain and movement restrictions.
General principles of self-myofascial release
Heat before you treat
When your body is cold, fascia is tighter and harder to treat. Like putty, it becomes softer and more pliable as it warms up. You can warm your body through exercise or through damp heat, such as taking a shower.
Little and often is best
If you try to do too much too soon this can lead to irritation and more pain in the short term. Limit your sessions to 20-30 minutes a day and work on different areas using a range of exercises to help release restrictions.
Stay within your comfort zone
The rule of ‘no pain, no gain’ doesn’t apply when working with fascia. If working on an area causes intense pain, your fascia will actually tighten to protect itself as opposed to releasing and letting go. Use a scale of 0 to 10 where 0 is no pain and 10 is excruciating and keep your pain levels at an acceptable maximum of 7.
Maintain the pressure
Fascia is a slow releasing tissue and responds best to sustained pressure, so staying in a single stretch or on a tender point for longer allows time for the fascia to start to let go. Compared with muscle exercises, you don’t need to repeat each stretch or exercise more than once in a session.
Pay attention to your body
Fascial restrictions and trigger points create referred pain patterns that can spread through lines of tension in your body. As you work to release these, you will often feel pain in other places. This is generally a good indication of where you should work next.
You can use inflatable myofascial balls, trigger point balls or other balls. However, we generally don’t recommend anything harder than a tennis ball as this can be too painful and cause your fascia to tense up. Wherever you are, lie or lean against the ball for 90 – 120 seconds to allow time for the fascia to release. You don’t need to roll around, just use static pressure. Sometimes you may feel a slight intensifying of sensations before they start to reduce. Don’t worry if you don’t feel any changes at first – if you have been in one place for at least 2 minutes then the fascia will have started to release, but sometimes it takes a few repeats before you start to notice a difference.
Unlike muscle stretches which last for 20-30 seconds, a fascial stretch needs to last anything from 90 seconds to 5 minutes for maximum benefit. We recommend you start by holding each stretch for 90 – 120 seconds. Go into each stretch progressively, waiting when you feel a sense of resistance until this loosens and you can deepen the stretch further. As the fascia releases, so do all of the tissues contained within it, so you are also stretching your muscles and nerves at the same time.
If any of these exercises make your symptoms worse, common sense says stop!
You can find out more about our self-myofascial exercises, products and training on our website: www.paincareclinic.co.uk.
Turn you head to one side and drop it down so your nose is pointing at your armpit. You will feel a stretch in the back of your opposite shoulder. If it feels comfortable, you can place your hand on the top of your head to deepen the stretch. Repeat on other side.
Good for: neck pain, upper back tension, shoulder pain.
Balls under neck
Place 2 inflatable myofascial balls in a bag. Lie on the floor or on your bed and put the balls under your neck so your spine is between the balls. You can place a small
cushion under your head for comfort.
Good for: headaches, eye pain, anxiety & stress.
Standing lean your upper body to the side, keeping your arms loose, to feel a stretch into your side. To deepen the stretch, take your arm over your head. You can do this stretch against a wall for support, or by leaning sideways over a Swiss ball, bringing your arm up over your head.
Repeat on other side.
Good for: shoulder issues, repetitive strain injury, low back pain.
Ball on side of hip
Lie on your side on the floor or your bed and place the ball on the side of your hip. It should rest on the muscles at the top of your hip or any tender spots you find. You can also do this leaning on the ball against a wall. Repeat on other side.
Good for: sciatica, hip pain, chronic pelvic pain.
Visit www.paincareclinic.co.uk for more about our self-help myofascial exercises, products and training.
Amanda Oswald Biog
Amanda is a leading UK myofascial release therapist and author of Living Pain Free: Healing Chronic Pain with Myofascial Release. Originally trained in clinical massage, she has completed further training in fascial techniques in the USA, UK and Europe. Besides her clinic work, Amanda teaches practical myofascial release to therapists and promotes self-care myofascial release techniques for all.
If you are interested in other works by Amanda Oswald visit:
1)Living Pain Free:Healing Chronic Pain with Myofascial Release- https://amzn.to/3l3R9N2
2)Pain Care Clinic Myofascial Balls Kit: https://amzn.to/3xjRrFl
More info on Amanda can also be found on her Bob and Brad's Experts Page here