How it works: Myofascial release

Myofascial pain shows up in all sorts of different ways: you could have lost some flexibility after an injury, noticed painful “knots” in your muscles that are restricting your movement or have ongoing pain in your legs, shoulder, hips or back.

Maybe you’ve tried other treatments with little or no success. Myofascial release therapy could be the answer to your chronic pain.

What is myofascial pain syndrome?

To understand the solution (myofascial release), you have to first understand the problem (myofascial pain syndrome).

Myofascial pain syndrome is a chronic pain disorder caused by sensitivity and tightness in the myofascial tissues, comprised of muscle (“myo” meaning muscle) and fascia.

What is fascia?

Fascia is the thin connective tissue that runs all over your body, creating an uninterrupted web that supports your bones, organs, nerves and blood vessels, along with all your muscles. It absorbs shock and helps your muscles move as part of the myofascial system. As a result, it can accumulate trauma from sudden injuries, damaging repetitive movements and chronic conditions.

Restrictions in the myofascial tissues can often be traced to specific points on the body, known as “trigger points,” which can cause pain in other parts of the body, even parts that don’t seem directly connected. This is known as referred pain.

Myofascial pain syndrome is more than just muscle discomfort, which everyone experiences from time to time. The discomfort of myofascial pain syndrome will continue to bother you or even get worse, long after the known cause has passed.

What does myofascial pain feel like?

Common symptoms of myofascial pain syndrome include:

An aching pain that feels like it’s coming from deep inside the muscle

Persistent pain

Worsening pain

Muscle knots that are sensitive to touch

Trouble sleeping due to pain/discomfort in muscles

What is myofascial release therapy?

Myofascial release therapy is a therapeutic approach that can be used to treat myofascial pain syndrome. It’s a hands-on technique that works to relax, lengthen and realign your fascia. The goal is to bring you pain relief, as well as give you back your full range of motion.

Conditions treated by myofascial release

Myofascial release can be used to treat a range of conditions, bringing pain relief and better myofascial function. Common conditions include:

Chronic neck and back pain (upper and lower)

Chronic shoulder and hip restrictions

Carpal tunnel syndrome

Migraines and headaches

Plantar fasciitis (the most common type of heel pain)


TMJ dysfunction

Thoracic outlet syndrome

Post-polio syndrome


Build up of scar tissue

Post-surgical rehabilitation

Dizziness or vertigo

Menstrual or cervical pain

Urinary incontinence

Acute sprains and strains

Poor posture and/or loss of flexibility

Other complex pain issues that have not responded to treatment

Myofascial release therapy has very few risks, but is not recommended for individuals dealing with:

Burns or open wounds

Fractures or broken bones

Fragile or weak bones

Deep vein thrombosis or deep vein issues

Blood thinners

Myofascial release vs. massage therapy

Myofascial release therapy is not the same as massage therapy.

First of all, they each have a different focus. Massage works with soft tissue and the overall system of muscles in the body to relieve stress and tension. Myofascial release works specifically with the connective tissue (fascia) to relieve the tightness that causes muscle restrictions.

Secondly, the type of touch involved in each technique is different. Massage therapy involves steady movement, like kneading and stroking, on the muscles to bring relief; myofascial release uses sustained pressure to stretch and lengthen the fascia.

Lastly, there is a difference in the use of lubricants. Massage therapy usually employs oils or lotions to help with smooth movement, whereas myofascial release therapy doesn’t need a lubricant.