The Difference Between Myofascial Release & Massage Therapy

Massage therapy can be traced back to the days of Hippocrates. More recently, physical therapist John Barnes took deep tissue -- or myofascial -- massage and transformed it into myofascial release. From reducing stress to eliminating chronic pain, these therapies are based on manual manipulation of the body. Although similar in these respects, distinct differences exist between the two.

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Massage therapy focuses on the body's soft tissue and musculature. Its goal is to alleviate tension and stress through touch and manipulation of the tissues. Myofascial release works the connective tissue, or fascia. Gentle pressure is applied to loosen the tightness in the fascia believed to cause muscle restrictions. Back pain and a decrease in range of motion are common complaints of myofascial release patients.


While massage therapy features kneading and stroking to relax the muscles, myofascial release uses sustained pressure to stretch and lengthen the connective tissue. Several minutes of this pressure may be required to properly soften and align the fascia.


A significant difference between the two therapies is the use of lubricants. Massage treatments often use oils or lotions to prevent friction between the therapist and the patient's skin. Myofascial release uses no lubricants. This therapy seeks to manipulate the fibers of the fascia to straighten and soften them. Lubrication prevents the practitioner from accurately finding the restrictions and getting a good hold on the fibers.


The effects of massage therapy are generally temporary, while some proponents of myofascial release believe it can eliminate chronic conditions. The Mayo Clinic points out the lack of scientific proof that the effects are long-term but acknowledges it may relieve acute pain. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, studies have shown massage to be beneficial for children suffering from autism, cystic fibrosis and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder 1. Patients with pain or loss of motion from injuries, surgery, bad posture or trauma have found myofascial release beneficial.