What is Fascial Release?

Mary McMahon

Fascial release is a style of bodywork which focuses on the fascia, the complex web of connective tissue in the body which runs from head to toe. According to practitioners who utilize this modality, the fascia can hold a great deal of pain, tension, and strain which can contribute to soft tissue pain. By releasing the strain on the fascia, a massage therapist hopes to soothe soft tissue pain and increase freedom of movement for the client.

The various types of fascia are all thought to provide a similar function, which is to transmit the tension in muscles throughout the body with a minimal amount of friction.
The various types of fascia are all thought to provide a similar function, which is to transmit the tension in muscles throughout the body with a minimal amount of friction.

This type of massage therapy is part of a larger family of modalities known as soft tissue therapies. Soft tissue therapy focuses on pain, injury, and strain in the soft tissues of the body. Most therapists trained in this modalities treat the soft tissue system as a complete unit, stressing the idea that the body must be treated as a whole in order to address the primary complaints of clients. Forms of fascial release are integrated into a variety of massage treatments, ranging from sports massage to deep tissue massage, and one advantage of fascial release is that people can perform it on themselves, with the proper training.

Fascial release may include a head massage.
Fascial release may include a head massage.

A variety of things can cause tension in the fascia. Poor posture is a classic example, but the fascia can also be stressed through injury, over-exercise, and poor diet. In fascial release, the therapist feels for areas where the fascia is obviously tense, looking primarily for areas of heat and hardness. When an area of tension is identified, the therapist can use several different techniques to release it, encouraging the fascia to relax. This will resolve the hardness, so when the therapist palpates the area again, it will feel much softer.

Fascial release techniques are commonly incorporated into a sports massage.
Fascial release techniques are commonly incorporated into a sports massage.

When therapists use direct fascial release, they follow the tension in the fascia to its source, and then they apply gentle pressure to the site to encourage the fascia to release. Generally, after the area is held for one to two minutes, the tension releases, allowing the fascia to go slack. Therapists can also address strain indirectly, with gentle stretches of the body around the problem area.

Massage with myofascial release identifies areas of tension and then focuses efforts on these spots to relax them.
Massage with myofascial release identifies areas of tension and then focuses efforts on these spots to relax them.

Fascial release can be intense, and sometimes even painful. Although a good therapist will move slowly and carefully, working within the client's limits, when an area of strain releases its tension, it can be momentarily painful. Sometimes, fascial release also hurts when the therapist puts pressure on the rigid area.

Poor posture can cause tension in the fascia.
Poor posture can cause tension in the fascia.

Clients may want to start out slowly, requesting indirect fascial release to get used to the experience. The massage therapist will still palpate the body to look for target areas, but the technique used to release the strain will be less invasive. Clients should also be careful to communicate well with their massage therapists; if something hurts, they should speak up, because intense pain can be very counterproductive.

Poor posture and poor diet can both cause tension in the fascia.
Poor posture and poor diet can both cause tension in the fascia.
Some massage therapists are certified to perform myofascial release as well as deep tissue massage.
Some massage therapists are certified to perform myofascial release as well as deep tissue massage.

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