Myofascial tissue is a type of thin, strong, fibrous connective tissue that extends throughout your body to provide support and protection to your muscles and bones. Myofascial tissue fibers are made up of collagen and elastin fibers that are arranged in a web-like structure and that are suspended in a fluid called ground substance. With a tensile strength of more than 2000 pounds, it provides a strong support for the muscles, while at the same time allowing for flexibility. You can think of myofascial tissue as being similar to a mesh bag that contains your groceries. It is pliable, and can expand and contract as the contents of the bag change. It envelops your body like a wet suit, from the tips of your toes to the top of your head.
Dr. Janet Travell first used the term myofascial in the 1940s in reference to problems with musculoskeletal pain and what are called trigger points. Travell is the author of Myofascial Pain & Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual, a seminal reference work for practitioners of trigger point therapy. Myofascial release involves the use of a practitioner’s elbows, knuckles or other tools to slowly stretch out the tightened myofascial tissue, thus removing knots and adhesions.
Healthy myofascial tissue is soft and relaxed, however, trauma and inflammation to the tissue can cause it to become tight and more rigid, and knots or adhesions can develop in the tissue that can cause a restriction in motion and lead to the development of “trigger points” that can cause pain anywhere in the body. Chronic neck and back pain, muscle spasms, headaches, difficulty breathing and reduced flexibility may all be due to a problem in the myofascial tissue.
Trauma from whiplash, a fall, the effects of surgery or chronic bad posture are some of the things that can contribute to myofascial pain syndrome. But it’s not just physical stress such as injury and illness that can cause the myofascial tissues to tighten. Emotional stress can have the same effect. This tightening can cause increased pressure on the muscles, nerves and organs that leads to chronic pain.
Many chiropractors are trained in myofascial release therapy, which can relieve pain from many conditions, including carpal tunnel syndrome, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder, headaches and fibromyalgia. They will stretch and loosen the tightened fascia that are restricting blood flow to the area, which will increase circulation and lymphatic drainage and take the pressure off nerves that have been compressed at trigger points.