Myofascial Release (MFR) and Fibromyalgia

What some consider to be exciting news for people suffering from fibromyalgia is the development of the myofascial release (MFR) therapy as a treatment option. If you suffer from fibromyalgia you know the constant pain you can be subjected to and the fact that it can be difficult to find a treatment that actually works to relieve this pain. For numerous fibromyalgia patients, myofascial release is working wonders and giving them major pain relief.

Myofascial release is a form of muscle ‘massage’ therapy that is very specific. It focuses on the fascia, the tissue that acts as a connector between your muscles and your nerves. As a fibromyalgia patient, this may be where your pain originates. A person who specializes in myofascial release techniques can ease the tension from the fascia and give instant relief to the area.

Fibromyalgia

Suffering from fibromyalgia can be life-changing, and not for the better. The chronic, wide-spread pain that is experienced by the majority of fibromyalgia patients is normally accompanied by joint pain, muscle pain, fatigue, sleep issues, headaches, intense depression and anxiety.

For many fibromyalgia patients, the disease is also accompanied by secondary disorders that are just as unpleasant. Irritable bowel syndrome and food allergies are two of the most common secondary medical disorders that often accompany fibromyalgia.

Unfortunately, the cause of fibromyalgia is unknown. There is no known cure for the disease either. Plus, not all treatments work for all patients. For this reason, the addition of a new treatment option, myofascial release, is exciting and something that should be explored if you are under pain and stress due to fibromyalgia and its accompanying symptoms and have been unable to find relief through traditional treatments.

Myofascial Release: Fascia

To understand how myofascial release works and why it relieves pain for fibromyalgia patients, you must first have an understanding of what the fascia is in your body. Myofascial release is a new treatment, or therapeutic option for fibromyalgia patients that gives pain relief, but it can also often restore their range of motion by relieving fascial tension.[1] For this to work, a qualified therapist uses specialized massage techniques that target the fascia.

Fascia is a connective tissue, (you can think of it like a spider web), that gives your inner organs and body systems support. It is a tough woven covering that is also dense. It offers protection to whatever it covers. It covers quite a bit too, including the muscles, the organs, the nerves, and many other structures in your body.

The fascia can tighten or become limited. Trauma, overuse, and other actions can cause tension and pain in the fascia. Tension in the fascia also causes pain in people with fibromyalgia, though research is studying whether its fibromyalgia that actually leads to fascia tension first. Either way, the effect is pain and difficulty using muscles as a result.

When the fascia becomes inflamed it can thicken and restrict, creating intense tensile pressure. This will lead to more pain and even more inflammation. It’s a perpetuating cycle. The aim of myofascial release is to interrupt the inflammation cycle using different therapeutic techniques.

Patients with fibromyalgia often suffer from fascia dysfunctions and ‘trigger points’ of pain – myofascial pain syndrome. The two, fibromyalgia and myofascial pain syndrome, are now considered by some health care professionals to be similar conditions.

In one study, fascia and the problems surrounding it were considered to be the ‘missing link’ to fibromyalgia. This study looked at the inflammation of the fascia in fibromyalgia patients and derived that the widespread pain experienced by these patients might be due to myofascial pain.[2] When the fascia becomes tensed in a chronic manner it has the tendency to become hyper-sensitive to any form of pain and in fibromyalgia patients, the fascia may not have the ability to heal correctly.[3]

Myofascial Release

How does myofascial release work for the patient with fibromyalgia? As mentioned, if you suffer from fibromyalgia, the fascia can, at times, become tense.  MFR uses muscle release massage techniques to stretch the fascia and relieve the pain. The goal is to effectively address the true cause of the pain in the body rather than temporarily mask it with drugs – there are direct and indirect myofascial release techniques for fascia release.

Direct Myofascial Release. Direct muscle release techniques involve deep tissue massage therapies. Tissue where pain is occurring will be treated with intense pressure, causing the tissue, or fascia, to release. Qualified massage therapists who engage in deep tissue massage utilize their knuckles, their elbows, and other applications to aid in releasing the fascia.

Indirect Myofascial Release.  Indirect fascia release involves smooth stretching of the tissue. This is a gentle method of massage. The fascia, or tissue, involved in the area experiencing pain is ‘guided’ by the therapist with gentle motions until release occurs. The theory behind indirect myofascial release is that gentle stretching will increase the blood flow in the area of pain as well as build up heat. The fascia will then have the ability to automatically release and return to its normal position. The key to success with this method is nonstop pressure over a continued time period.

Is Myofascial Release Therapy the Answer for You?

In one study, health professionals focused on the benefits of myofascial release therapy for patients who have fibromyalgia and experience pain, anxiety, disrupted sleep, depression, and an overall lessening in their quality of life. The study discovered that MFR techniques do have a positive effect on fibromyalgia patients.

During the study, 64 patients were divided into two groups. One group received 20 weeks of myofascial release therapy, and the other group received a placebo therapy. Results showed a significant decrease in trigger points for fibro patients in the myofascial release therapy group.[4] This group also showed a significant decrease in sleep problems, pain levels, anxiety levels, and an overall increase in quality of life issues.[5] These results lasted for up to one month following the treatments in the myofascial release study group. The study determined that more treatments would offer greater benefits to the patients in the study and to all fibromyalgia patients.[6]

Myofascial release (MFR) muscle release therapy is showing great promise for fibromyalgia patients. If you suffer from fibromyalgia this type of non-invasive treatment may be perfect for you. As a fibro patient, you are already sensitive to touch, but do not let this sensitivity or fear keep you from trying myofascial release therapy to help treat your pain.

References

[1]  Kain, M. (2011). Comparison of an Indirect Tri-Planar Myofascial Release Technique and a Hot Pack for Increasing Range of Motion. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapy , 63-7.

[2]  Liptan, G. (2010). Fascia: The Missing Link in Our Understanding of the Pathology of Fibromyalgia. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies , 3-12.

[3] ibid

[4]  Castro-Snachez, A. (2011). Benefits of Massage Myofascial Release Therapy on Pain, Anxiety, Quality of Sleep, Depression, and Quality of Life in Patients with Fibromyalgia. Evidence Based Complimentary and Alternative Medicine , 1-9.

[5] ibid

[6] Ibid

This article was originally published on July 11, 2012 and last revision and update of it was 9/7/2015