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Myofascial release (MFR, self-myofascial release) is an alternative medicine therapy that claims to treat skeletal muscle immobility and pain by relaxing contracted muscles, improving blood and lymphatic circulation, and stimulating the stretch reflex in muscles.
Fascia is a thin, tough, elastic type of connective tissue that wraps most structures within the human body, including muscle. Fascia supports and protects these structures. Osteopathic theory proposes that this soft tissue can become restricted due to psychogenic disease, overuse, trauma, infectious agents, or inactivity, often resulting in pain, muscle tension, and corresponding diminished blood flow.
The American Cancer Society states that "There is little scientific evidence available to support proponents' claims that myofascial release relieves pain or restores flexibility" and caution against using it as a substitute for conventional cancer treatment. The poor quality of research into the use of myofascial release for orthopaedic conditions precludes any conclusions being drawn about its usefulness for this purpose.
In 2011, the UK Advertising Standards Authority upheld a complaint regarding the effectiveness claims published in an advertising leaflet produced by the Myofascial Release UK health care service. The ASA Council ruled that materials presented by Myofascial Release UK in support of the claims made in their ad were inadequate to establish a "body of robust scientific evidence" to substantiate Myofascial Release UK's range of claims. In addition, the ASA determined that the ad breached advertising rules by introducing a risk that readers might be discouraged from seeking other essential medical treatments.
Reviews published in 2013 and 2015 evaluating evidence for MFR efficacy found that clinical trials that had been conducted varied in quality, technique, outcome measurements, and had mixed outcomes; the 2015 review noted: "it is time for scientific evidences [sic] on MFR to support its clinical use." Another review concluded that the use of foam rollers or a roller massager before or after exercise for self-myofascial release appears to be helpful with regard to range of motion and soreness, but the optimal timing and duration of use requires further study.
The approach was promulgated as an alternative medicine concept by Andrew Taylor Still, inventor of osteopathy, and his early students. The exact phrase "myofascial release" was coined in the 1960s by Robert Ward, an osteopath who studied with Ida Rolf, the originator of Rolfing. Ward, along with physical therapist John Barnes, are considered the two primary founders of Myofascial Release.
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