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  • Writer's pictureKim Edwards

How is the John Barnes Approach to myofascial release different than a typical massage?

Massage usually involves stroking and kneading motions, usually administered with lubricants, making it easier for the therapist to slide their hands over the recipient’s skin. This is ideal for anyone with tension or tired muscles caused by exercise, sleeping in an odd position and just ordinary daily stresses. Massages usually last 30-90 minutes and can temporarily relieve muscle tension in the muscles. While people usually feel peaceful afterwards it doesn’t typically address pain in the connective tissue.

Myofascial release applies sustained pressure on targeted areas of connective tissue (fascia) that surround your muscles and bones. This pressure is meant to release the restriction in the connective tissue so that you have greater range of motion and less pain. The therapist, who is trained in myofascial release, maintains pressure for a minimum of three to five minutes, or even longer, in the targeted area. Maintaining the pressure is the key. The ground substance must be allowed sufficient time to soften and release. No lubricant is added to the skin so the therapist can locate and maintain pressure in the areas of resticted fascia.

Compared to other forms of bodywork, John Barnes style myofascial release is gentle and slow. Generally speaking, traditional massage and physical therapy techniques can hurt people with chronic pain because often the therapists are trying to force through fascial restrictions, and the client’s body reflexively tenses. MFR never forces, but rather gently waits for the body to release restrictions on its own schedule. This eliminates most of the pain from traditional bodywork.

However, each person’s fascial restrictions are different, and addressing some very old or “stuck” restrictions can generate a temporary painful "healing crisis” that ultimately has the end result of lower pain and improved tissue health.

Fascia is affected by all forms of trauma, whether physical or emotional. Chronic pain, poor posture, repetitive injuries and inflammation create tension in the fascia causing the ground substance that fascia is embedded in to dehydrate and harden locally. But with fascia being an interconnected web, this then pulls into other areas of the body, much like when you pull threads on a sweater causing all the other threads to organize along lines of tension. This can create an array of symptoms such as pain, tingling, or burning some distance from the originally affected area as the strong fascia binds down on pain sensitive structures like nerves and blood vessels. The body loses its flexibility, and its orientation in space becomes compromised, so it needs more energy just to stay upright and function. As this process continues organ systems may be compromised, stress may not be as easily managed and chronic pain can set in… feeling as if one is wearing a straight jacket.


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