/ by Laurie Blunk, MS, LAT, ATC
Much of the limitation we feel in our motion and flexibility could be because of myofascial pain and adhesions. Fortunately, this pain doesn’t have to last forever thanks to recent advances in new therapies.
Fascia is a connective tissue sheath found throughout the body that surrounds each organ, bone, nerve and blood vessel, as well as every muscle. Trauma, inflammation, scarring and repeated stress to muscle can lead to a thick anchoring of this tissue to the muscle and skin around it. This is commonly referred to as myofascial adhesions or sometimes “trigger points” and results in tightness and pain.
When we typically think of tightness, the focus has been on stretching and gaining flexibility to reduce muscle soreness and injury. However, if adhesions are present, the individual may reach a plateau with flexibility and could even experience pain with activity.
Recently, more and more is becoming known about myofascial pain and the benefits of releasing these adhesions. Myofascial therapy is typically used to break up any adhesions and promote proper function of the underlying musculature.
While some forms of therapy may be performed individually, myofascial therapy is more commonly performed by healthcare providers, such as physical and occupational therapists, massage therapists, chiropractors, athletic trainers, and other sports medicine and orthopedic specialists. These well-trained individuals are better able to identify areas of restriction, which are not always found in the same location as the pain.
The following techniques are typically used in myofascial therapy:
Foam rolling has become a popular recovery technique. Foam rolling consists of using a cylindrical tool, called a foam roller, and body weight to massage muscles. Foam rolling can be helpful when combined with stretching because it breaks up adhesions in the soft tissue around the muscle. This is also the easiest treatment to perform solo.
Cupping is an ancient soft-tissue technique that uses negative pressure or suction as a means of mobilizing soft tissue and increasing fluid (i.e., blood and lymph) circulation to promote the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the tissues. Cupping can be done either by leaving the cups in place or moving them in a linear motion along the muscle, which is beneficial in breaking up adhesions. Think of it as a form of reverse massage using suction versus compression.
Myofascial release is a technique commonly used by health professionals during massage. Health professionals will locate the adhesions or “trigger points” and then apply direct pressure to them until they release. This typically takes 30 seconds to a minute depending on the condition of the tissue. Healthy tissue will respond faster. While this treatment is very effective, it can be uncomfortable for both the patient and therapist.
Instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM)
These are techniques that use specialized instruments to massage or gently “scrape” the skin to break up myofascial adhesions and scar tissue. There are many types of tools for this technique based on the size and curvature of the area being treated. IASTM is best used with a strength and stretching program as you are essentially breaking down soft tissue so that correct remodeling of the tissue can occur.
Myofascial therapy, when used in conjunction with a rehab or workout regimen, can help reduce pain and increase flexibility. Remember that several rounds of treatments are often needed. Although many of these techniques can be self-performed, individuals will usually benefit most from this form of therapy when it is performed by a medical professional with training in myofascial therapies.