Fascia is the connective tissue that surrounds organs, muscles and bones of the body. The tissue surrounding muscles is called myofascia. Muscles are composed of fibers, and when a muscle is injured, these fibers become tense and shortened. Myofascia surrounding the muscle can tense up with the fibers, creating what is known as myofascial pain.
Chronically tense muscles and myofascia can develop bands of knots known as trigger points. Trigger points are muscle fibers and myofascia stuck in constant, isolated spasm. This causes significant localized pain, and may cause referred pain if the trigger points impinge surrounding nerves. Normal muscle usage is obstructed, as the body compensates for pain by not using the muscle that hurts. This can cause other muscles to be called to action for movements the injured muscle would usually perform, which could cause myofascial problems in surrounding muscle groups.
Who Gets Myofascial Pain?
Diagnosing myofascial pain may be difficult; it has been linked to a variety of symptoms with numerous possible causes, such as headaches, lower back pain, fibromyalgia and TMJ dysfunction. The best indicators of myofascial pain syndrome are persistent muscular pain and tangible knots in muscles that don’t go away on their own.
Myofascial pain and trigger points can develop in anyone, from the very active to the very sedentary. Postural dysfunction causes widespread muscle strain and tension which can result in trigger points. Working out improperly can create muscle imbalances that cause trigger points in the overly-developed muscles as well as in the weaker, overstretched muscles that become strained by trying to return to their normal length.
Athletes often take advantage of myofascial release to prevent injuries caused by their rigorous physical activity. Cyclists, for example, often develop extremely tight hip flexor muscles, and can benefit from regular myofascial release for the hips. Recently myofascial release has become an important tool in rehabilitation from injury and postural dysfunction for anyone.
Myofascial release can be obtained in a couple of ways. The most careful way is to seek out treatment from a specialist. Myofascial release practitioners do more than massage; they assess patterns of tension throughout the musculature to find areas with the most tension. They use a special technique to stretch myofascia back to its normal shape and elasticity. An important part of myofascial release is that the practitioner can feel the muscle’s response to his or her touch and assess how much pressure to use during the next application. Trigger point massage focuses on the identification and forced relaxation of trigger points by a massage therapist trained to do this.
Not everyone can afford myofascial release therapy. Luckily, self-myofascial release (SMR) has made a name for itself in the home treatment of back pain and other pain conditions. This technique involves rolling over a firm object, usually a foam roller or tennis ball, to force tense muscles and myofascia to relax and regain elasticity (hence its other name, “rolling”). SMR does not involve the same biofeedback benefits that myofascial release administered by a professional does, but for many it is still an effective and necessary component of treatment. For people with pain conditions, it is best to begin rolling with a trained physical therapist or other health professional so you know you’re performing it safely and effectively.
You can find information on different types of SMR devices at http://www.shiatsubag.com/attachments/Foam_rollers_for_Myofascial_and_Trigger_Point_release_therapy.htm.
For people with chronically tense muscles, stretching is insufficient to restore muscle elasticity. Myofascial release, whether administered by a specialist or yourself, has the goal of solving a common pain problem by eradicating its cause directly. If you have persistent muscle tension and hard knots, talk to your health care provider about myofascial pain syndrome and the safe, natural ways it can be treated.
Safe choices for pain management solutions exist. Educate yourself in alternative solutions for back pain management. Please ask questions, give comments or stories related to this article submission regarding back pain management.
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