Myofascial Release Techniques for Athletic Trainers.
Assisted myofascial release is a form of manual therapy that targets fascia, the connective tissue that surrounds bones, muscles, and organs throughout the body. The goal of myofascial release is to release tension and restrictions within the fascia to increase flexibility and mobility along with reduced pain. When an athletic trainer or physical therapist assists a client in releasing fascia tissue, it requires hands-on techniques like trigger point therapy, massage, and/or dynamic stretching.
Recommended course: Myofascial Mobilization for Functional Mobility: Upper Body
Assisted myofascial release: Assessment
Before beginning a myofascial release program, the first step is to assess the athlete’s current condition and determine the primary areas of concern. The trainer should do a general check of the athlete’s posture and movement patterns, and then ask about any specific areas of tension or discomfort. Finally, the trainer should ask about relevant medical history and previous injuries that might impact the use of myofascial therapy.
Trainer-assisted myofascial release
After a trainer or therapist determines that myofascial therapy is appropriate for the athlete, they may use hands-on techniques to isolate areas of tightness or restriction in the fascia and then decide which methods of treatment (s)he will use. Some trainers may want to use their hands only. In this case (s)he would apply pressure directly to the affected areas with the goal of releasing tension to that targeted fascia bundle. However, many trainers prefer to use tool-assisted release methods. Tools can be applied by the trainer or used by the client under the trainer’s guidance.
Recommended course: Myofascial Mobilization for Functional Mobility: Lower Body
Instrument-assisted myofascial release
- Foam Rollers. Foam rollers are cylindrical-shaped training aids made of dense foam. They apply pressure directly to specific muscles or muscle groups and fascia. Designed to allow motion over the affected area, foam rollers work to release tension in fascia and muscle and come in a variety of sizes and densities to accommodate differing levels of intensity. It is common to use a foam roller along the paraspinal fascia. In this example, the athlete would lie on a foam roller lengthwise perpendicular to the spine and gently roll from the base of the neck to the lower back. This helps release tension along the back muscles and fascia.
- Massage and myofascial balls. Therapy balls, commonly called massage or myofascial balls, range from small to large. They target specific trigger points and areas of tightness within fascia and muscles. In addition to the trainer using the ball to apply pressure directly to targeted areas, they can be used against a wall, on the floor, or placed between the body and any stable surface like a massage table for direct pressure.
- Massage sticks. Massage sticks are small rods with handles on each end. They may be textured or have rollers on them to increase intensity and are used to apply direct pressure and roll over fascia and muscles to release tension.
Additional tools for myofascial release
- Therapy bands and stretch straps. Bands and stretch straps with or without handles are commonly used to promote flexibility, but they can also be used to facilitate myofascial release. When used by trainers, these aids can help guide athletes through specific dynamic stretches to target the fascia while using the resistance provided by the bands or straps to facilitate peripheral neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching.
- Scraping tools. Scraping tools are small objects designed specifically for targeting trigger points and releasing tight fascia bundles. They are normally round-edged instruments made of jade, stone, or ceramic, and allow for precise pressure application. When used properly, the motion is applied force back and forth over the affected area.
- Vibrating foam rollers. Vibrating foam rollers are used to facilitate sensory pathways while applying direct pressure to the affected area. Vibration can help relax muscles and fascia more effectively than pressure alone from a traditional foam roller.
Incorporating dynamic stretching
In addition to commonly used tools to target fascia and muscles, many trainers use dynamic stretching as a form of guided movement to facilitate release. When used properly, the athlete moves through carefully planned stretches designed to target specific areas. This should reduce tension and pain and enhance the range of motion.
Common dynamic stretches that can be done with a trainer or alone include:
- Neck and shoulder rolls
- Cat-cow stretch
- Child’s pose
- Hip flexor stretch
- IT band stretch
- Seated forward bend
- Lateral Neck Stretch
- Wrist and forearm stretches
- Gastrocnemius and soleus stretch
- Plantar fascia stretch
Whichever tools an athletic trainer or therapist chooses to treat fascial restrictions, a comprehensive review of studies shows that a treatment plan of at-home stretching and self-myofascial release techniques combined with on-site stretching and manual therapy like scraping and trigger points therapy provides patients with the most relief from soft-tissue related conditions (McKivigan, 2020).
This article was written by Amy Ashmore, PhD.