What Is Myofascial Massage?

Massage therapist providing a client with myofascial massage

Praised as a great way to relieve soreness and tightness, myofascial massage is quickly becoming a highly sought-after wellness treatment. The myofascial massage is a manual therapy technique that requires the expertise of a trained massage therapist. It is considered by many experts to be the best treatment for myofascial pain. By relieving pressure, this specialized massage therapy enables clients to enjoy pain reduction, better mobility and overall increases in physical wellness. So, what is myofascial pain and how can myofascial massage help?

What Is Myofascial Pain?

Myofascial pain is simply a term that’s used to describe muscle pain. The definition actually extends to both pain and accompanying inflammation within soft tissue. For many clients with musculoskeletal pain, the pain felt is technically radiating from a connective tissue called “fascia” that covers the muscles.

Myofascial pain often occurs when muscles or muscle groups are exposed to prolonged, repetitive movements. For many clients, this occurs as a result of sports, workouts, movements performed at work or improper posture. Even stress and anxiety can trigger myofascial pain due to strain and tension held within the body. While myofascial pain can impact the entire musculoskeletal system, it is most commonly experienced in the neck and shoulders. However, it is also seen frequently in the hips, lower back, jaw, calves, quads and feet. Here’s a glance at some common symptoms of myofascial pain:

  • Muscle aches and pain that feels deep within the muscle.
  • Muscle pain that gets worse over time.
  • Knotted feelings in the muscles.
  • Tension and headaches.
  • Extreme pain that makes it difficult to work, exercise or sleep.

Fortunately, clients who are suffering from extreme muscle pain have a very natural, noninvasive option in myofascial massage. This highly specialized technique involves massage and stretching with light manual pressure to help restore function to the fascia. A desire to resolve muscle pain from the source without surgery or medications is causing many people to seek out massage therapists who are capable of offering myofascial massage.

What are Myofascial Massage Techniques?

For future myofascial massage therapists, there’s quite a bit to learn about how specific manipulations can help to bring healing and relief to clients suffering from intense muscle pain. First, the phrase “myo” refers to the muscular tissue that is affected. The term “fascia” refers to what medical experts call a three-dimensional web of connective tissue. This web of tissue actually extends from the superficial layers of muscular tissue all the way to the deepest layers of tissue that touch the bone. This provides an indication of just how deep and intense a myofascial massage really is. In fact, myofascial tissue can be thought of as the framework of our bodies because it provides the mechanisms that we use to move our muscles.

When the fascia is compromised, we see a reduction in range of motion. In addition, restrictions within the fascia can reduce the flow of nutrition to our joints. This can lead to pain, extreme mobility reductions and inflammation. If left untreated, it’s common for compromised fascia to cause heightened pain sensitivity and premature tissue degeneration. Some clients also experience a narrowing of the spinal cord called stenosis that ultimately leads to muscle weakness.

How Is Myofascial Massage Performed?

First, massage therapists train in massage therapy programs to actually identify fascia problems. When fascia is healthy and functioning normally, it feels very pliable and elastic. Massage therapists begin by gently massaging the area to look for signs of stiffness and tightness.

Next, the therapist massages and stretches the area using some light manual pressure. The massage therapist then applies special manual techniques for releasing pressure and tightness using a series of repetitive motions on a client’s trigger points. A trigger point is a spot within the skeletal muscle that is the “source” of pain. The massage therapist works on a single trigger point until a release can be felt. This is where the pressure “evaporates” to relieve the tension and stress that are causing pain.

Practitioners will often focus on locating multiple trigger points to create comprehensive pain relief. This usually means working on the broader network of muscles associated with the type of pain that a client is experiencing. For the client, it may seem like the massage therapist is working on a series of “unrelated muscles” even though they are targeting associated muscle groups. However, both the immediate relief and long-term benefits make the results very clear.

Massage therapists use a number of different movements and techniques when administering myofascial massage. The massage is most commonly conducted using the hands and elbows. However, a number of massage tools that range from foam rollers to soft balls can also be employed.

What Are the Benefits of Myofascial Massage?

The most immediate and obvious benefit of myofascial massage is pain relief. Many patients experience immediate relief following a release. However, several visits are typically needed to provide muscles with the prolonged, focused healing they need to eliminate pain, strain and inflammation. There are also many secondary benefits to myofascial massage that simply contribute to a healthier body.

One of the big benefits of myofascial massage is the alleviation of knots throughout the impacted area. This helps to relieve tension that was causing reduced mobility. Even areas that were not experiencing acute “pain” can now feel freer and more relaxed. Many clients find that they are able to enjoy better range of motion and flexibility. This is important for clients who are seeking sports massage because the massage therapist is able to utilize myofascial massage to boost recovery and enhance performance. Next, massage is great for improving blood circulation. The stimulation provided during the massage experience is enough to “wake up” the blood vessels in the affected area to restore blood flow. What’s more, removing the tension caused by knots can also open up the pathways for blood flow that had been blocked by the knots. As a result, the muscles in the area are now receiving more oxygen.

Even people who are not seeking myofascial massages for acute pain can benefit from an overall reduction in muscle soreness. Many active clients seek out this form of massage to keep their muscles at peak performance. Additionally, massage is a great stress-reduction tool for both muscle groups and the full body.

What Are the Skills a Massage Therapist Needs to Be Successful?

 It’s easy to see why professionals would gravitate toward a career that allows their clients to tap into the regenerative benefits of myofascial massage. Being successful at myofascial massage requires some specific skills and interpersonal qualities.

Dexterity

A massage therapist must have a degree of flexibility to access various muscles and muscle groups on a client’s body. They must be able to reach over the massage table to vigorously apply pressure to muscles. In many cases, this means holding the pressure in place until they are able to sense the release of the trigger point. The different maneuvers needed for myofascial massage also require a good degree of dexterity. Massage is a “whole-body” application that requires a combination of fast and carefully paced movements. While the entire body is used, it’s especially important to have hand and wrist dexterity for the ultra-detailed, fine-point work that needs to be done during a massage session.

Stamina

Stamina is also important for massage therapists. A myofascial massage can last for up to 90 minutes. Due to the demand for this therapy, it’s not uncommon to book multiple massage sessions throughout the course of a single day. Ultimately, the stamina to give every message session “your all” is very needed in this field.

Communication Skills

A myofascial massage therapist needs to have strong communication skills. Clients often have many questions about how this type of massage therapy works. As a massage therapist, it’s important to share information that puts clients at ease during what can feel like a very vulnerable experience. Massage therapists must have the skills to gauge client comfort levels, make accommodations to help clients feel more comfortable and “check in” with clients regarding how they’re feeling. During an initial meeting, a massage therapist often provides a quick “briefing” on the techniques and benefits behind a specific form of massage. The communication skills of the massage therapist set the tone for the entire experience. While myofascial massage is a highly technical treatment that requires a great deal of technical skill, this is something that is ideal for a “people person” who enjoys one-on-one communication.

Final Thoughts

People are increasingly turning to myofascial massage for pain relief, muscle health and overall wellness. This form of massage can be incredibly effective for boosting range of motion and flexibility. For massage therapists, this treatment specialty opens up doors to have a steady, loyal roster of clients. Is it time to learn more about becoming a massage therapist and offering myofascial massage? You will be happy you did.

Want to Learn More?

If you are interested in the healing powers of massage, you can begin your career in massage therapy at Minnesota School of Cosmetology. Our short-term massage therapy training program is designed to be completed in as little as 12 months. Our massage therapy training program is designed as a holistic program that will prepare students to focus on body mechanics of their clients as well as develop positive habits for the therapist. Together, those two areas will provide a foundation that can lead to longevity in the career field.

Contact us today to learn more about becoming a massage therapist and starting a rewarding career in the massage industry.

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