Myofascial Release (MFR) is a holistic, therapeutic approach to manual therapy. MFR offers a comprehensive approach for the evaluation and treatment of the myofascial system, the system of tissues and muscles in the body.
This technique is designed to release restrictions such as trigger points, muscle tightness, and dysfunctions in soft tissue that may cause pain and limit motion in all parts of the body. MFR has shown success in decreasing pain and increasing mobility.
Myofascial release combined with the principals of tensigity throughout the body provide a powerful therapy to balance the musculoskeletal system of the horse.
Why is the Myofascial System Important?
Fascia is a specialized system of the body that has an appearance similar to a spider's web or a sweater. Fascia is very densely woven, covering and interpenetrating every muscle, bone, nerve, artery and vein, as well as, all of our internal organs including the heart, lungs, brain and spinal cord. The most interesting aspect of the fascial system is that it is not just a system of separate coverings. It is actually one continuous structure that exists from head to toe without interruption. In this way you can begin to see that each part of the entire body is connected to every other part by the fascia, like the yarn in a sweater.
Bodyworker Thomas Myers developed the Anatomy Trains system of myofascial work in the 1990's. He revolutionized how we now understand how the body works as a whole, not just separate muscles working independently.
The Anatomy Trains program lays out fascial and myofascial 'anatomy of connection' throughout the body, giving us the ability to map the pattern and shape the change - no matter what manual therapy or modality is used. I have been studying this program for four years and applying the Anatomy Trains myofascial release program to my work with the horses.
In 2015 Dr. Rikke Mark Schultz dissected out the same 12 myofascial meridian lines in horses. Dr. Schultz found that, "there is the existence of diverse lines related to lateral bending, extension, flexion, and rotation that are not only comparable to the human lines, but also lend support to existing biomechanics
theories such as "bow-string" and the "passive stay apparatus.
Trauma, inflammatory responses, and/or surgical procedures create Myofascial restrictions that can produce tensile pressures of approximately 2,000 pounds per square inch on pain sensitive structures.
A high percentage of horses suffering with pain and/or lack of motion may be having fascial problems, but are not diagnosed.
When the myofascia is stressed from overuse or trauma it can tear and glue itself together to make small patches of tightly contracted muscle. When trigger points are present, on the microscopic level, part of the muscle fibre is contracted into a small thickened area, and the rest of the fibre is stretched thin. Several of these muscle fibre contractions in the same area, being ‘gummed up’ are probably what we feel as a “knot” in the muscle.
None of this is conducive to smooth muscle function. These patches build up and become “trigger points” which can prevent the muscles from working well and will need some care and attention to get smoothed out.
When pressed, trigger points feel like “knots” or tight bands in the muscle, and are usually very tender. Healthy muscles usually do not contain knots or tight bands, are not tender to pressure, and when relaxed, they feel soft and pliable to the touch, not hard and dense, even in a fit sport horse.
A successful treatment protocol relies on identifying trigger points, resolving them, and if all trigger points have been deactivated, elongating the structures affected along their natural range of motion and length. In the case of muscles, which is where most treatment occurs, this involves stretching the muscle using combinations of passive, active, active isolated, muscle energy techniques, and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching to be effective. Fascia surrounding muscles should also be treated with myofascial release, to elongate and resolve strain patterns, otherwise muscles will simply be returned to positions where trigger points are likely to re-develop.