How Myofascial Release Therapy Can Help Relieve Pain

This isn’t your ordinary day at the spa.

how myofascial release therapy can help relieve pain

If you’ve ever watched me walk, you might have noticed that my right foot splays outward, which in turn makes my left hip cave inward. It’s due to a collapse in my arch, an unwelcome souvenir from 18 years of dancing, and unless I pay close attention to my turnout, it will never correct itself. Sometimes this causes lower back pain during a workout and prevents me from firing my glutes, a crucial part of toning that particular muscle. No fire, no change.

In order to move past this injury once and for all, I decided to meet with bodyworker OJ Catbagan, who operates out of Vitru LA, a private training gym in the heart of Hollywood where clients can undergo private training, cryotherapy, NormaTec compression, full-body light therapy, and, of course, bodywork. Stationed in the corner of the warehouse-like gymnasium is a massage bed where Catbagan performs myofascial release on his clients. “The body is connected energetically,” he says. “You touch one thing, and it affects the entire system.”

A quick primer: Fascia is connective tissue located throughout the body that attaches, encloses, and separates muscles, bones, and other internal organs. It also aids in physical movement and helps stabilize joints. “There are different lines of tension, or slings, of fascia throughout the body that store and release elastic pressure,” says Catbagan. “These tension lines support proper movement and form when walking and working out, leading to less stress throughout the entire body.”

So what exactly does this sort of treatment entail? “Myofascial release is a deeper form of foam rolling or rolling out on a ball,” Catbagan explains. “A lot of times you can’t get as deep [with those methods]. Your body has a defense mechanism, and it doesn’t allow for a certain amount of pain.” In order to locate the areas of tension, Catbagan palpates different parts of the body. “It feels more like a wall as opposed to sinking in,” he notes of the spots needing treatment. “That’s the difference between something that has opened up and something that hasn’t.”

Depending on the area in pain and what it needs, Catbagan will use his fingers, hands, elbows, or forearms to apply gentle sustained pressure to the Myofascial connective tissue, which will allow it to elongate. “What I’m trying to do is get you right to that edge and give you a consistent stimulus for your body to register and respond against,” he adds.

Rather than having his patients come to him when there is already pain present—a type of health care that is common in the Western world—Catbagan encourages his clients to seek care early. “Pain is your body’s attempt to slow you down and let you know that something is wrong,” he explains. “It could be anything from dehydration to sitting for ten hours a day. Myofascial release and other modalities of ‘self-care’ need to be seen as preventative rather than reactive care.”

For those who are already fans of alternative types of treatment, like visiting a chiropractor, you’re in luck—myofascial release goes hand in hand with chiropractic work when targeting pain. If you can open up some of the tension with a bodyworker, then a chiropractor will have an easier time adjusting you, and vice versa. Together, they are a stronger method of pain management—or for those seeking realignment—rather than alone. Says Catbagan, “A lot of times you’ll go to a chiropractor and they’ll say to come back twice a week for the rest of your life. It’s addressing a symptom rather than the root cause of what may be provoking the dysfunction. When you leave a [myofascial] appointment, you feel lighter, looser, and things move a little better as you go throughout your week.”

He also reveals that of the many people who visit him for pain management, few understand how crucial a proper stride is for your body’s alignment. “I’ve had people come in who are on their feet all day and their back always hurts. Well, they walk with both feet turned out.” So what’s the right way to walk? Once your heel hits the floor, you roll through the outside of the foot supported by the arch. Then the weight transfers across the toes, and you push off your big toe and the ball of your foot. Essentially, walking correctly can help prevent much of the tension and pain you may be feeling on a daily basis.

Along with paying more attention to your gait, Catbagan likes to give his clients homework to empower them to take charge of their bodies. That can be working with a ball, foam roller, PVC pipe, or a self-massage tool. “I recommend foam rolling every day, but start small, maybe five minutes. Something that doesn’t become a task.”

When I say I’ve seen results firsthand, I really mean it. After just two sessions, my lower back pain has majorly subsided, and even my Pilates instructor has made multiple comments about my hips being in alignment while moving through the exercises. And because my hips are better aligned, I’m able to fire my glutes, leading to a longer, leaner body. Although I need to be better at sticking to my at-home exercises, I can’t recommend trying myofascial release therapy enough.  

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