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What Is Myofascial Release Therapy (and Can It Help My Back Pain)?
Caiaimage/Adam Gault/getty images

When it comes to treating back pain, there are a plethora of options, from visiting a chiropractor to applying ear seeds. One is myofascial release therapy, which isn’t as scary as its science-y name suggests. Here’s what you need to know about it—including whether or not it can actually help ease your back woes.

What is it, exactly?

Myofascial release therapy is an alternative medicine therapy that claims to treat pain by relaxing contracted muscles, improving blood and lymphatic circulation and stimulating the stretch reflex in muscles. It’s a therapy that’s often used in massages and focuses on pain from myofascial tissues—the tough membranes that wrap, connect and support your muscles. Myofascial release therapy is used to treat a variety of conditions, including temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), carpal tunnel syndrome and migraines.

What happens at a myofascial release appointment?

Typically lasting 60 minutes, a myofascial release appointment is super similar to a run-of-the-mill massage. You'll lie on a table while a therapist applies pressure with their fingers, hands or elbows. Unlike a regular massage, practitioners press into muscles instead of kneading or stroking. Still, the experience shouldn't be painful; expect it to feel like a normal massage—you'll feel pressure, but in a good way. 

Sounds amazing. Does it really work?

There haven’t been a ton of studies conducted on the efficacy of myofascial release therapy, but the research has been promising. One study published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies concluded, “The literature regarding the effectiveness of MFR was mixed in both quality and results. Although the quality of the randomized controlled trials studies varied greatly, the result of the studies was encouraging, particularly with the recently published studies. MFR is emerging as a strategy with a solid evidence base and tremendous potential.” Similarly, a review of studies at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs found that, “Overall, the studies had positive outcomes with myofascial release, but because of the low quality, few conclusions could be drawn. The studies in this review may serve as a good foundation for future randomized controlled trials.” Fair enough—but we’re keeping our eye on this treatment, that’s for sure.

How can I try it?

While there are certain back-pain treatments (like balneotherapy) that you can do on your own, myofascial release therapy is best performed by a professional. If you’re interested in trying it, find a licensed massage or occupational therapist in your area and ask if they are trained in myofascial release.

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