What can you tell me about myofascial release therapy as a treatment for back pain? Does it work?

Answers from Brent A. Bauer, M.D.

Myofascial (mi-oh-FASH-al) release is a manual therapy technique often used in massage. The technique focuses on pain believed to arise from myofascial tissues — the tough membranes that wrap, connect and support your muscles. Theoretically, myofascial pain differs from other types of pain because it originates in "trigger points," which are related to stiff, anchored areas within the myofascia. The pain that a trigger point causes is often difficult to localize, though.

During myofascial release therapy, the therapist locates myofascial areas that feel stiff and fixed instead of elastic and movable under light manual pressure. These areas, though not always near what feels like the source of pain, are thought to restrict muscle and joint movements, contributing to widespread muscle pain. The focused manual pressure and stretching used in myofascial release therapy loosen up restricted movement, leading indirectly to reduced pain.

Many studies have found that massage, chiropractic manipulation and similar manual therapies work as well as other treatments for back pain. Few studies, however, have tested myofascial release therapy specifically, partly because the exact elements of myofascial release therapy vary from therapist to therapist.

If you've been told that myofascial release therapy may be helpful for your back pain, consult a therapist who has training in the technique.

Jul. 03, 2012 See more Expert Answers