Myofascial release has a growing body of evidence that supports its use in the treatment of neck, back and other types of pain commonly found in athletes and non athletes alike.
Years ago, the fascial system was largely ignored when physicians participated in anatomy lab. It was once thought that different muscles did different things depending on where they connected to. Books such as Warfel carefully described the origins and insertions of muscles so doctors could memorize the parts and pass their examinations.
Myofascial Release Solving Painful Problems
There has been a long history of researchers trying to understand the matrix of tissues called the myofascia over the past century. More recently, Myers whose book Anatomy Trains based on his dissections of the human body had brought attention to how researchers in the past have tried to understand what fascia does through their own anatomical dissections. The Rolf Institute, teaching their method of structural integration using a deep myofascial release process intended to help alter poor postural patterns that may result in pain in the typical person.
Other methods such as Barnes, Stecco, Active Release Techniques (r) have developed their own methods or styles of performing a release of the fascia to improve the way we move and function to varying degrees of success.
Evidence suggests that problems such as back pain are movement based, and methods that enhance movement help manage and resolve back problems. While the recent study by the Annals of Internal Medicine did not exactly say it, their recommendations were to use methods of movement such as chiropractic manipulation, myofascial therapy, tai chi, exercise as well; the common element to all of these approaches is movement. They also suggested that drugs and invasive procedures should be used last. Both mainstream medicine and insurance carriers have been quite slow to change their incentives to doctors to match the science by promoting functional and drug free methods of care making it more affordable to the average patient, while increasing referrals to safe and non invasive drugless care.
The profession that uses a number of these methods while emphasizing manipulation of the spine and extremities is chiropractic. Their holistic approach more closely aligns with how we move and how the body functions, as opposed to the importance of just the painful region and pain relief of the part. Perhaps, this is why the chiropractic approach has the highest levels of satisfaction for problems such as back and even neck pain, when used alone or in conjunction with regular medical care.
A recent consensus statement published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine entitled Fascial tissue research in sports medicine: from molecules to tissue adaptation, injury and diagnostics: consensus statement offered the idea that there is enough literature to support further evaluation and validation of fascial treatment in sports.
As someone who has treated many athletes, and used methods such as myofascial release, active evaluation and Graston Technique which uses tools to break up dysfunctional fibrous tissue, fascial release is essential to help athletes resolve chronic painful problems and dysfunctions. Active evaluation and treatment methods are being taught at the post graduate level and doctors are excited by the integrated approach and its effect on their patients.
While many of us have painful problems due to sports activities, others have painful problems that can improve with the use of fascial release as well.
Current Research and the Fascial System
Current research suggests the fascia has a nerve supply and may offer answers to who acupuncture works and effects how we transmit forces from the ground up, in concert with the muscles. The old idea that exercises alone will improve function is less effective when used without fascial release methods which improve movement patterns. While exercise is important, power and strength is a combination of muscular power, the fascial system and the way the brain processes the way we move and function. Without the restoration and correction of fascia and its patterns of movement, exercise alone may cause more injuries due to the fact that the fascia guides movement and acts like an exoskeleton in the human body.
Interest in the fascial system among researchers continues to grow, and more papers are being published and presented at symposiums such as the International Fascial Congress, which meets every other year and has offered insight on how fascial works, how scars and fascial adhesions may be responsible for pain in the body. Growing evidence supports the idea that fascial release is essential for improvement of how we feel and function in combination with other therapeutic regimens. Sometimes, abdominal scars from a c section or hernia repair can affect how we move and function as well, resulting in chronic pain in other areas of the body, while the scar itself may not be painful at all.
Why See a Chiropractor First
Many chiropractors who specialize in sports medicine are quite skilled in fascial release, and teach their patients about the health and function of the fascial system. Active Release Techniques was developed by a chiropractor who improved on the ideas of the Rolf Institute, developing a more diagnostic way of applying myofascial release using motion, which has been widely accepted crossing over into other techniques of myofascial therapy as well.
More recently, active evaluation and treatment methods and styles of treatment have been developed to customize the fascial release approach to the patient vs. a one size fits all formula which is all too common in today’s healthcare systems rehab clinics.
A personalized approach using treat – test – treat is the only method that has been proven to work, probably because the healthcare provider is checking the efficacy of their treatment on that days visit. The method leans heavily on myofascial release and Instrument Assisted Soft Tissue Methods such as Graston to improve function, strength and flexibility. Better movement, combined with manipulation of the joints further improves patient outcomes, as movement or a lack of is closely related to pain in the body. This closely describes how most sports certified chiropractors treat.
If you have back, neck, shoulder or other joint pain, seeing a chiropractor who does active evaluation, treat-test-treat protocols can help you solve many problems more quickly, while avoiding costly tests such as MRI’s and medical specialists who may suggest invasive procedures and surgeries that are risky and often avoidable. Holistic management of chronic pain from a sports chiropractor may include foot orthotics, myofascial treatment, exercises and even treadmill evaluation, since many of the chronic problems people experience can also include poor gait habits that have been adapted to over many years.
Who should you see first for back, neck and joint pain; all roads lead to the chiropractor.