Myofascial Stretching Guide

Myofascial Stretching is a self-treatment technique that results in permanent re-lengthening of shortened, bound-down connective tissue and has the capacity to dramatically improve health and quality of life.

It follows the principles of Myofascial Release, as developed by John F. Barnes, PT, utilizing sustained pressure and active elongation into restrictions in the fascial system.

Fascia is a tough connective tissue that surrounds every cell from head to toe like a three-dimensional spider web.   It provides support and flexibility to all structures of the body.

Fascial restrictions are hard, tight, generally tender areas in the body.

Injury, trauma, chronic inflammation, and poor posture cause these fascial fibers to adhere, tighten, shorten and thicken. \

These restrictions put abnormal pressure on nerves, muscles, blood vessels, bones, organs and the brain, resulting in inefficient functioning of these structures.

Pain, restriction of motion and structural misalignment are some of the consequences.

Modern medicine tends to look at muscles, bones and organs in isolation, generally ignoring the importance of the global system that connects it all together.

Releasing restrictions in the fascia can be the missing link in resolving problematic cases of pain and dysfunction.

There are four primary ways that myofascial stretching differs from traditional stretching.

The first is duration. All Myofascial stretches must be held continuously for a minimum of 90 to 120 seconds before the fascia even begins to let go. When held longer, additional releases may occur. This allows a release of not only the elastic and muscular components of the tissues, but the collagenous component as well. Traditional 30-second stretching only effects the elastic and muscular portions, providing only temporary results. Releases of the collagenous component are lasting and cumulative.

Second is the concept of active elongation. Active elongation is what allows one to engage the fascial barrier. For example, extend your arm out to the side with your wrist bent backwards. Feel the stretch. Now, in the same position, reach, telescope, or elongate your arm as if you’re trying to make it longer. Feel how that engages the tissue along the entire length of your arm into your hand. The fascial barrier is the point at which you feel resistance to the stretch.

The third essential difference is the need to be consciously presentthroughout the process of Myofascial Stretching. It is exponentially more effective when you are able to focus on the tension in the tissue, direct your breath into the restriction, notice the resulting slack as release takes place, and then elongate into the next barrierand wait for another release to occur. Regular practice of these techniques, with conscious attention to what you are feeling and your breath, will increase body awareness, patience and intuition. This results in being more focused, centered, and grounded in all aspects of life.

The fourth distinction is that stretching and strengthening occur simultaneously. During active elongation, muscle groups opposing the tight fascia have to contract in a sustained manner. This prolonged isometric contraction of muscles against the resistance of the fascial barrier strengthens them, helping to maintain the elongated state of the tissue you have just released.

Myofascial Stretching Using Inflatable Balls and Foam Roller

The basic concept is this:

Put gentle, sustained pressure into areas of fascial restriction for 3 to 5 minutes.Place the ball or roller under an area of pain or tightness and slowly roll on it to find the point of greatest intensity.

It may take 10 seconds or more to sink in deeply enough to realize you are in a restriction.

When you find an area that feels hot, hard, tender, tight or refers pain/sensation to another area, stay there and allow your body to sink further in.

Breathe into whatever you are experiencing and continue to allow your body to soften and relax around the ball.

Remain in each area for a minimum of 90-120 seconds or until you feel a release. You may want to stay longer if it feels beneficial.

Again, it’s generally recommended you stay 3-5 minutes.

Because fascial restrictions are comprised of multiple barriers, each one needs to be released in order to restore full freedom of motion.

When one area feels complete, roll around and seek out the next point of restrictions, tenderness or tightness.

You might work up and down an entire extremity, i.e., the outside of the thigh.

Other times you might move to another body part where sensation was referred or seems to be connected in some way.

While on the ball or roller you may need to adapt your position to change the intensity of what you are feeling.

Increase the intensity to go deeper into the restriction or to follow the tissue to the next layer as it releases.

If the intensity feels too severe, decrease it to a level you can maintain for 90-120 seconds.

To accomplish these changes, shift your weight, bend your knees, raise your arms over your head, come up on your elbows, elongate or stretch your arms, legs or torso.

Myofascial Stretching with Active Elongation

Active elongation uses many traditional stretches and modifies them.

Enter into the stretch slowly and consciously, when you begin to encounter a restriction engage it further by actively telescoping the body part.   

Keep the intensity mild to moderate, never forcing the tissue. 

More is not always better.

Follow the tissue as it releases into each subsequent restriction.

Again, hold the stretch a minimum of 90-120 seconds, generally 3-5 minutes to allow for multiple releases.

Adapted with permission from “Myofascial Stretching” by Jill Stedronsky Morton, MS, OTR and Brenda Party, OTR. To purchase a copy, visit myofascialstretching.com.

For more information on Myofascial Release, visit myofascialrelease.com.