How Myofascial Release Got Me Back On My Feet Again

How Myofascial Release Got Me Back On My Feet Again

By Donna Gregory Burch.

Don’t tell my husband, but I am in love with a woman. Her name is Christine, and I just met her a few weeks ago, but she’s definitely changed my life for the better. Christine has the gift of gab. We love to talk about conspiracy theories and how the elites are destroying our planet. But what I love most about her is her hands. Her hands are magic! You see, Christine is my new myofascial release practitioner.

Donna Gregory Burch

Right now, you’re probably wondering, “What the heck is myofascial release?” Well, it’s sort of like massage but not really. Myofascial release (MFR) is a form of bodywork developed by physical therapist John Barnes. It uses slow, gentle pressure to break up adhesions in the muscle tissue and fascia. (Here’s a short three-minute video on myofascial release and how it can benefit fibromyalgia.)

According to fibromyalgia specialist and fellow fibro warrior Dr. Ginevra Liptan, at least two European studies (linked here and here) have found MFR to be effective at reducing fibromyalgia pain. MFR also is helpful for treating different kinds of back pain, bladder urgency/incontinence, migraines, osteoarthritis and other conditions.

I first learned about MFR last year when I read Dr. Liptan’s book, “The Fibro Manual.” She is a big fan of MFR and credits it with helping to manage her own chronic pain.

I had put MFR on my mental to-do list but was in no rush to try it because massage therapy is basically torture for me these days. I used to love massage, but since developing fibro and Lyme, it’s too painful even with a gentle massage therapist.

But I read this article about how Lyme bacteria like to hide in biofilms in the fascia. I started to put 2 + 2 together in my mind. If MFR breaks up and releases the fascia, then maybe it would help drive those Lyme bacteria out of their hiding places so they could be killed off by the antibiotics and herbs I’m using for treatment.

I scheduled my first full-body MFR session with Christine in late June. Because of my most recent experiences with massage, I was worried it would be painful and that I would end up in a flare afterwards. But the only time I felt pain during my session was when Christine pulled on my arms. Otherwise, it just basically felt like she was pressing and holding different areas of my body. As she was doing it, I wondered how in the world was this going to help anything. I figured I had just blown more money on yet another ineffective treatment.

But when I left Christine’s studio that day, I noticed I walked a little easier. My hips felt straighter. My neck felt looser. The pain that I always carry in my legs was definitely lighter. I just felt … better.

I went home and waited for the flare to start. I even took some ibuprofen in anticipation but it never came. For the next few days, I had less pain overall. I started to look forward to my next MFR session, which was scheduled in three weeks.

Then, the unexpected happened. I was sitting at my desk on July 3 when my lower back started to ache. As the day progressed, I realized I had a pinched nerve in my lower back, causing sciatic pain down my left leg. I did a few sciatica stretches, hoping that would fix the issue, but by the next day, I was basically confined to the bed or sofa. At times, I couldn’t even walk upright. I literally crawled up the stairs a couple of times because it was too painful to climb them normally. I’m used to the daily pain of fibromyalgia and Lyme, but this was pain at a whole new level. As the days passed, I was praying for my “normal” fibro/Lyme pain to return instead of the misery I was feeling.

I had a couple of chiropractic adjustments, but they gave minimal relief. I saw my general practitioner who prescribed a few days of prednisone and muscle relaxers. The drugs helped, but the pain returned whenever I stopped taking them.

A week after my symptoms started, I reached out to Christine in desperation to see if she could help. She worked on me for over an hour, pulling, pressing and digging her hands into my back, hip and buttocks. It hurt but in a good way. When I stood up from her massage table, I knew without a doubt that she had magic hands. I had four days of relief, and then the pain returned – it was nowhere as severe as it had been – but enough that I called Christine to ask if she could work her magic again.

I am able to sit here at my desk and write this article because of Christine and MFR. I am a convert, a true believer. Dr. Liptan was right … again. If you’ve got fibromyalgia or some other condition that causes chronic muscle pain, I would research MFR to see if it might be helpful. It’s definitely been a savior for me these past couple of weeks.

Now, it’s your turn: Have you tried myofascial release? I’d love to read about your experience in the comments below. 

Donna Gregory Burch was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2014 after several years of unexplained pain, fatigue and other symptoms. She was later diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease. Donna covers news, treatments, research and practical tips for living better with fibromyalgia and Lyme on her blog, FedUpwithFatigue.com. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter. Donna is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared online and in newspapers and magazines throughout Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania. She lives in Delaware with her husband and their many fur babies.

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Authored by: Donna Gregory Burch

There are 16 comments for this article
  1. John Quintner at 2:49 pm

    Joel, here are some excerpts taken from an article by the physical therapist, John F Barnes:

    “What is fibromyalgia really? What do fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic pain, headaches, pelvic/menstrual pain and dysfunction, and PMS have in common? These are simply different labels of a common denominator, unrecognized myofascial restrictions.

    Myofascial restrictions do not show up in all the standard tests that are now performed, nor have most health professionals been taught how to recognize them.”

    Having once identified the particular myofascial restriction in each case, Barnes claims that “Myofascial release is utilized for the treatment of menstrual pain and/or dysfunction, back and pelvic pain, and other inflammatory disorders. It can treat the unpleasant and/or painful symptoms of pregnancy and childbirth, recurrent bladder pain and infection, painful intercourse, sexual dysfunction, elimination problems, coccygeal pain, painful episiotomy scars and the list goes on.” He is confident that “these problems can in many cases be substantially alleviated or eliminated by myofascial release, nontraumatically and gently.”

    Myofascial release evidently has the added benefit of relieving the emotional pain associated with past unpleasant events or traumas. According to Barnes: “The painful memories or emotions from beatings, rapes, molestations, or miscarriages seem to be stored in the body’s memory … As myofascial release frees the adhered tissue, the trapped emotions and painful memories fade away leaving the person with a sense of peace.”

    So, if Barnes is to be believed, it would appear that “myofascial release” is the panacea for many chronic ailments.

    Mirabile dictu!

    Link: http://www.myofascialrelease.com/downloads/articles/Fibromyalgia.pdf

  2. Joel Ronningen at 11:13 am

    Just so folks are a little clearer on things – there are many forms of myofascial release out there. One is very different though, and that is the John F. Barnes Myofascial Release approach that is mentioned in this article. The website to find a practitioner is at http://www.myofascialrelease.com

    Of course there are many education and skill levels, but finding a therapist that has been trained in Barnes MFR will save you a lot of trial and error with other forms!

  3. JillJ at 7:33 am

    I tried MFR last year. Worked wonders for my fibro & meniscus tears. I’ll be returning as soon as my rotator cuff surgeon gives the ok. Yes, $100 out of pocket but sooo worth it. Yes, painful at times but again, sooo worth it. Much better mobility, less pain. Give it 3 sessions before passing final judgement. Don’t put it off if you can at all afford it!!

  4. Jane at 9:01 pm

    I have Transverse Myelitis which has caused pain from my damaged area down my body. I’ve had PT and they did some MFR work but where or how would I find a therapist who does this without going through PT office?

  5. Donna Gregory Burch at 8:23 pm

    @Maureen, it sounds like you encountered an bad practitioner. I’m sure MFR is like regular massage. There are practitioners who are really great, and some that aren’t. If you have the resources, I would definitely see if there’s a John Barnes trained practitioner in your area and try again. As I said in my post, nothing about my session was painful other than when she was pulling on my arm and she let off when I said it was painful. That’s what a good practitioner is supposed to do! I’m sorry yours didn’t do that.

  6. Maureen at 7:45 pm

    Maureen, So as not to mix us up… this is the other Maureen 🙂 who is having some temporary success with MFR. I suggest that you try to find a massage therapist who is well experienced and specializes in MFR.
    Compared to your Marine Chiropractor….
    My sessions are low lit, soft music and a very relaxing atmosphere.
    It can surely be painful, I have shed tears for sure but my therapist also assists me in breathing correctly while she is hitting the painful spots making it a bit more tolerable. It’s difficult to do it yourself if you have spine issues but I’ve used it myself on my neck and shoulders. Best of luck to you.

  7. Suzanne at 7:03 pm

    To Maureen,
    There is what we call “old-fashioned” myofascial release and what Donna is writing about known as JFB-MFR. I can’t imagine you experienced the JFB type if your practitioner treated you that way. As an OTR practicing this modality, i get great results without producing a lot of pain. Also, the patient is given control and is honored with JFB-MFR. If you try again, be sure to verify your practitioner is JFB trained. So sorry this happened to you.

  8. Melissa at 1:27 pm

    I’ve gone to a physio fortnightly for three years and it’s been the best thing to keep me moving. We moved to acupuncture needles in the right spots to relieve trigger points and eastern points. Then they do some manual release on my low back and glutes (too sensitive there for needles). I also do self mfr daily to manage my neck. I just bought a Theracane so i can do a bit more without hurting my hands.

    Dr liptan is right in the money with this! Unfortunately it doesn’t keep the pain away and they’re not lessening but it keeps me going 🙂

  9. Andrea Cresson at 12:17 pm

    I’ve tried many things for nerve, muscle, and scar tissue pain. But, still searching for the ultimate natural pain reduction/free high. After reading this article, I made my first appointment for MFR! Tuesday can’t get here fast enough.

  10. Kathy at 10:18 am

    I have transverse myelitis, a rare neurological disease that caused a non-traumatic spinal cord injury and neurological pain. I also get sciatic pain in my left leg. It’s been hard to find any relief for any of the nerve pain. Recently I tried my official release and was pleasantly surprised how much it helped. I could walk better afterwards and my sciatica was relieved for over a week. I’m looking forward to continuing treatments.

  11. Maureen at 9:54 am

    Hi, Donna, I tried 2 sessions of MFR. I had excruciating pain which brought me to tears almost immediately. The chiropractor was a former Marine who exhibited little empathy. The second time I was begging him to stop. My husband had to step in and push the dr. away. I even asked the dr. if he would show my husband the maneuver; he agreed and my husband felt pressure.
    So, are there differences in practitioners? Do you have suggestions? Thank you.

  12. Maureen at 8:21 am

    Hi Donna,
    It’s Maureen (from your website 🙂 Great post, as always!!
    I’ve had 4 lumbar spine surgeries. About 10 yrs ago in CT. I was referred to
    post op physical therapy and as it turned out the place I went to was alllll about myofascial release! and that’s exactly what the therapist did for me due to my long history of never ending lumbo/sacral pain.
    Back then I didn’t know much about it but over time that guy got me ‘walking’ much much better!! I couldn’t walk a half a block before then.
    Over the next 8 yrs I would return to him as needed.
    Fast forward and now almost 3 yrs later/living in Fla. now and having had to experience/endure! the worst pain management ever! in this state….and after 2 moves in a year and horrific body pain, can’t take long walks again…
    God eventually brought me to a massage therapist (I kept asking around for a ‘hands on therapy’ person since my spine was craving/asking for it!)
    who specializes in MFR.
    I tell people the same thing “She has magic hands!!”.
    Plus, I’ve learned soooo much about the brain, spine, nerves, joints etc from her!
    She has worked wonders on my low back, sciatica flares, my torn left knee meniscus pain/swelling, my diseased neck and both shoulders.
    Most times it is painful but it all makes a huge difference…if even for a few days.
    Had I known more about this therapy to begin with, many years ago…
    I truly believe that I never would’ve ended up having my lumbar spine surgeries, fusions, hardware, nerve/muscle damage and ended up with a painful broken body. Seriously.
    I’ve seen her weekly since Feb!! and wish I could have her in my home each morn as I painfully rise.
    Since Ive been in a very long FM flare since mid May, she is now working on Fibro FMR therapy, as well as continuing to break up the scar tissue, wake up dysfunctional nerves etc in my L/S spine. My sacrum and legs all burned for several years. They don’t anymore! 🙂
    For years and years I’ve had great difficulty sitting and she has brought me to where I can sit for longer periods now (still always on a pillow though!).
    I pay out of pocket though so she put me on a sliding scale. Which is a burden but so worth it to me.
    Overall Long term results?? I’m not so sure yet…my surgeries have messed up my body very badly. But, I’m going to give this therapy a whole year.
    Time will well….

  13. Ibin at 7:26 am

    I hope each patient with continuous pain does find a lasting relief. For some, many, with different typesof pain generating conditions, there is no relief….in sight. It is interesting to read how some patients are blessed to find pain relief as the many have been thrust inot misery. Worsened misery as not ANY patient with pain before 90 mme was never completely oain free. Just tolerable pain to continue with each respective persons life.

    My wife with fibromyalgea and lymes disease has not had much luck with her pain relief. We keep reading and attempting what may work for others. personally with 2 back surgeries and another pinched nerve in my upper spine., neck, life is miserable. No income. No relief. No response from any medical authoritarian, just comply or whatever. The stress filled patients that I read about are at the end of their rope. The policy makers do not understand why……assimilation to 90 mme is so difficult or just don’t care.

    Surley, I mean really, surely, the authoritarians that wrote the book on pain management have no severe pain, ever. For if they did, millions of suffering pain patients would be able to receive somewhere near the amount of medication that we need. Not alternate treatments that have already been attempted. I can not help but “wish” those that wrote the book could feel severe pain just for a month or two believing that there was no hope for pain easement. I just bet that the unilateral 90 mme would never have been enforcd.

    Who better, to prescribe medication for the patient with pain than a physician that examines us, month after month, year after year, decade after decade? Along with ALL evaluations whether by “machine” or the physicians skill can prescribe medication in a dose that would give the patient enough of a life to achieve , what must be done. Whether able to stay employed or just maintain the home.

    Yet the authors of the mis-guiding-line now best for one and all. I personally don’t think that 90 mme is a social experiment to “change” the way the addict thinks by removing ALL opiate medication from the market. Even for those with eternal, continuous pain.with documented benefits, some for years and decades. Whose authority will be taken next? The authority to even be able to be seen by a physician unless near death?

  14. Brenda Stapleton at 4:58 am

    I haven’t had MFR, but I tried cupping a week ago. I must admit, I have felt less fatigue and pain this week. I will be going back for more.

  15. Denise Bault at 4:50 am

    I had a wonderful practitioner who did myofascial release on me for a year. I went in once or twice a month. Unfortunately, each session was $100 and was not covered by insurance. My gal said you could learn to do it to yourself, and at times I try, but am no where as good as she was. I actually would get in my car after a session and have to readjust my rear view mirror. She somehow she had “elongated” me and I seemed to be taller!

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