Myofascial Release: The Healing Power of Touch

Jeffrey R. Thurau, MPT, facility director at UPMC Centers for Rehab Services’ Franklin-Circle Street location, said manual physical therapy focusing on myofascial release is an effective treatment method for many pain syndromes caused by injuries, accidents, poor posture, deconditioning, joint disorders, illness, aging, and even stress.

“It’s a hands-on approach to healing that looks at the entire body,” Thurau said. “The goal is to find active ‘trigger points’ and treat them appropriately.”

Thurau said myofascial pain is often overlooked. Patients frequently come to him with a nagging pain after an injury appears to have healed.

“Everything looks good on paper — the MRI shows the tissue has healed or the X-ray shows the bone has reset. But the patient still has pain and limited movement that makes it difficult to return to normal routines,” he said.

“This is where myofascial release therapy can help.”

What Is Myofascial Release?

Myofascial release is a form of physical therapy that targets pain caused by sensitivity and tightness in the myofascial tissue — the connective tissue that surrounds and supports the muscles throughout the body.

Fascial strain can cause pain, restrict movement, reduce flexibility, and even impact the body’s ability to withstand stress and strain. “Fascia runs head to toe like yarn in a sweater, holding everything together in the body,” explains Thurau. “Like a pull in a sweater, damage to the fascia can spread.”

Is Myofascial Treatment New?

No. Myofascial pain treatment was pioneered by Janet G. Travell, MD — personal physician to President John F. Kennedy — who treated his severe, chronic back pain.  Her research demonstrated that trigger points in each muscle had a specific pattern of referred pain.

What Are ‘Trigger Points’ in Myofascial Treatment?

When stressed or injured, muscles can form trigger points (muscle knots) that cause pain and tightness. These trigger points also can cause referred pain in other areas of the body. Myofascial release reduces pain by easing the tension and tightness in the trigger points.

How Do Trigger Points Form?

The trigger points result from damage to muscle and connective tissue, including those caused by:

  • Accidents (sports injury, fall, car accident)
  • Improper lifting
  • Repetitive or overuse injuries
  • Poor posture
  • Surgery or illness (such as stroke)

How Does Myofascial Release Work?

Touch is key to myofascial release, said Thurau. The first step is to examine muscles with the hands to locate trigger points and determine the appropriate treatment. Hands-on techniques include applying pressure to muscle knots to release the fascia and restore motion and “ironing” the muscle to lengthen muscles.

What Kind of Results Can be Expected?

The good news is that most patients experience positive results from myofascial release techniques — often with the first treatment. Although not used by all therapists, myofascial release is an effective tool that can successfully treat pain and improve quality of life. In addition, we also provide traditional manual therapy, pain relieving treatments, tailored exercise programs, and work-related and aquatic therapy.

To learn more about myofascial release therapy, contact UPMC Centers for Rehab Services’ Franklin-Circle street location at 814-432-9405 or visit the UPMC Centers for Rehab website.