Massage vs. Myofascial Release

So, what’s the difference?

I hear this question quite often and it has inspired me to provide you a little more clarity around the topic.  In the growing field of bodywork, so many forms of therapy are becoming available to you. And while this is very exciting, it can also be rather confusing when choosing which one is more appropriate for you.  While MFR has been around for some time, it is not nearly as popular or practiced as massage therapy. However, it is becoming a more specialized and mainstream modality.  It is receiving a lot of praise from a variety of health care professionals as being a wonderful source of alternative therapy.  Myofascial Release is different than massage therapy and I hope to help clarify why. The more informed you are, the more empowered choices you can make in life.

Massage therapy is probably the a most conventional and conservative approach when it comes to bodywork. It often is just the thing you need when feeling stressed, fatigued, strained, or inflamed.  As you know, massage treats the elastic component of muscle tissue. The depth of pressure applied during a session, ranging from light to strong, is a rather subjective quantifier as to its efficacy in relieving pain. Massage elicits that “good hurt” you all talk about when an elbow is in your upper trap or gluteals. It is a wonderful modality that can soothe muscular aches and pains, and reduce the physical and emotional stress you carry in your body. It also does amazing things for your circulation and immune system.  Massage helps you feel more aligned and aware of how your body is interconnected, and therefore, creates a greater sense of ease and wholeness.

However, sometimes you do something to your body that produces varying levels of traumatic symptoms that either develop immediately after the triggering event or even years later. Examples are; you are in an auto accident and then develop migraines or TMJD, you have chronic low back pain and intermittently wake up with a kink in you neck, or develop knee pain after straining a hamstring. Wherever the symptom is being felt, the universal complaint is “pain”. And this pain is preventing you from engaging in the normal activities in life that bring you joy.  You receive deep tissue massage, rolfing, chiropractic, and acupuncture. You visit the PT, OT, and MD, desperately searching for an answer, only to wind up feeling frustrated and helpless. You spend too much time, energy, and money on various modalities that are providing some support, but are just not getting to the source of it. This is where myofascial release therapy comes into play. It treats the body unlike any other form of  therapy out there.

Those of you who have experienced it know how differently it works. It tells the story of your body, and brings into your consciousness the specific holding patterns of movement and limitation that are at the root of your pain.  MFR is a powerful modality that can not only help you heal from traumatic experiences, but also help to alleviate chronic pain, improve postural imbalances, and correct repetitive strain related issues, especially, when other forms of therapy have been ineffective or only provided temporary relief.

MFR is gentle, albeit intense at times. It yields dramatic, long term change in your body. But don’t let the gentleness of the techniques deceive you…especially those of you who believe in “no pain  no gain”. It in fact works “deeper” than massage therapy because it treats connective tissue rather than the more superficial layers of muscle tissue that massage therapy targets.

Remember, the fascial system is a continuous and non-linear web of connective tissue that weaves around and throughout every single muscle, bone, organ, blood vessel, nerve, and cell in the body. It connects every part of the body to another, providing support and stability, yet allows for flexibility and motion. It is our shock absorber. When it becomes injured, it restricts, solidifies, bares down on pain sensitive structures (i.e., nerves, joints, muscles) which you, in turn, manifest as a “symptom”.

The myofascial release stretching techniques applied work as a lever that take the pressure out of your entire system, beyond the focal point of your symptom. It restores connective tissue, and frees you from limitation and pain, so you can return to the active and expansive lifestyle you deserve. To receive this work, one must be patient, present, and quite honestly, very brave, as it can often trigger an inflammation of symptoms, called a “healing crisis”…a very important stage of healing, and a very important topic for another time.

When it comes down to it, one modality is not necessarily better than the other, nor are they mutually exclusive.  Massage therapy may be more appropriate for one person, and MFR for another. You will know when you experience it for yourself. Similarities are, they are both forms of touch therapy. Both are deeply relaxing and restorative.  Both cultivate a sense of inner peace, ease, and awareness, which are essential in maintaining a balanced and happy life.

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