Myofascial Release Is Saving My Life

As I write this, it’s been 3 full weeks since I began my MRT program at the local chiropractors office. MRT stands for Myofascial Release Therapy. It is also commonly known as ART or the Active Release Technique. It has done wonders for my hip, glute and hamstring flexibility and I am forever sold on the therapy. As for the details…

Flexibility Degradation

I first noticed problems about one year ago when I began working a desk job. You know the setting, lots of sitting on your rump, not enough moving around and very poor posture. This in itself is a recipe for anatomical disaster. When strength training, I noticed my lower back rounding during certain lifts. The deadlift soon became impossible to do without rounding my lower back when pulling from the floor. I once hurt my lower back bad enough that I dropped deadlifts completely from my programming for a while. The next issue I noticed was my butt tucking under at the bottom of my squats. My lower back kept getting worse and I soon had to revert to leg press only to relieve the lower back pain. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. I stretched and trained regularly. I had never had these issues before. It didn’t make much sense.

Research and Discovery

I began doing lots and lots of forum searches for others with the same problems as I. The common issue I found was that many others with desk jobs experienced the same lower back problems that I was experiencing. As I was looking for a solution I found that many were making an extra effort to stretch their hamstrings and hip flexors. This made sense the more I studied. If your hams are tight, when you squat down your lower back has to round to allow the range of motion necessary for that particular lift. If you know anything about strength training, a rounded lower back whilst doing squats or deadlifts is very dangerous.

I figured there must be a way to correct my problems. I tried stretching. A lot of stretching. I made sure to stretch very thoroughly after each training session to ensure I was increasing my hip and hamstring flexibilty. Weeks and months went by with no pain relief whatsoever. Turns out that training and stretching correctly for 4-5 hours per week will not fix what 8-9 hours per day of sitting in a chair will do to you. I needed some help.

 

My research lead me to ART and MRT treatment protocols, especially the way athletes were being treated. I had a chance to chat with Børge Fagerli of MyRevolution. He recommended that I give ART a try and suggested some mobility/foam rolling exercises to do in the mean time. I am so glad I took his advice to seek help. I searched for an ART therapist in my area but could not find one who would accept my insurance. I finally found a great team of MRT therapists at a local chiropractic office just down the road. What a life saver.

The Appointment

I scheduled a consultation immediately. The first visit consisted of a few tests to determine the proper treatment. I was a classic case of the lower cross syndrome. In short, my hip flexors were very short and tight(from sitting all day), while my hip extensors were long and weak. We also ran a test and found that my glutes were not firing properly. This is your basic muscle imbalance that can cause a myriad of problems down the road. Because my hips were tight, my hams were tight and because my hams were tight, my lower back was sore. It all links together. Great! So I asked the good Dr. “how do we fix me”? He replied with “some good old cracks and pops followed up with MRT.”

What is MRT?

Myofascial release, according to Wikipedia is

a form of soft tissue therapy intended for pain relief, increasing range of motion and balancing the body. Techniques include manual massage for stretching the fascia and releasing bonds between fascia, integument, muscles and bones are applied. The fascia is manipulated, directly or indirectly, supposedly to allow the connective tissue fibers to reorganize themselves in a more flexible, functional fashion.

How does this “release” happen you ask? Well, you must have another person(with experience) to perform the technique on you. The standard protocol usually involves them digging their thumbs deep into the affected area, applying pressure and elongating the muscle. Oh boy was this part fun! I will never forget my first visit.

The Infamous Psoas Release

My Chiropractor did all kinds of pops and twists that felt incredible. As soon as we were done I felt like I was walking on clouds. I walked on air right into the treatment room. There was a man and a girl in there who were working with patients one on one. I met my practitioner, Jay.  He shook my hand and instructed me to lay on the table flat on my back. He then proceeded to do some PNF stretching for my hamstrings. Nothing new so far.

He then says “okay, I want you to relax your leg while I perform a psoas release.” In my head, I am like “oh! This is that ART stuff I have been reading so much about.” The next thing I know he is digging his thumb deep into my groin. It feels like my hip flexors were immediately on fire and I was seriously yelping like a little girl. The pain is hard to describe. It’s a cross between being tickled and tortured. I found myself laughing and screaming at the same time. Soon after the release was over I then had electrodes hooked to my lower back and then laid on this heated bed that massaged my lower back for about 10 minutes. Immediately after treatment I had a much greater range of motion than when I entered the building. I could do a full squat without any trouble. I actually had some strength in my hip flexors that was not present before the treatment. My initial visit was nothing short of amazing.

During my third visit the nice girl I met on my first day got the chance to work on me. She started off with the usual PNF stretching and then did this really cool psoas stretch that I wish I could perform on myself. I had a hunch she would be doing the psoas release on me since she was taking me through the usual routine. Thankfully, her thumbs weren’t as strong as Jay’s so she didn’t make me scream bloody murder. In this case it was more ticklish than anything. However it was nice to have a beautiful, brown eyed blond hovering over me for a change. I hope she gets to work on me again.

The Importance of Corrective Treatment

After just 3 weeks of treatment I feel like a million bucks. I plan to continue treatment until I am as good as new. Last week I did high bar back squats with no pain for the first time in months. I felt stronger than expected and I attribute that to doing what’s necessary to take care of the muscle imbalances I have developed over the past year.

I highly encourage anyone having similar issues to seek chiropractic and MRT services to regain your range of motion and improve training quality. It’s definitely one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Comments

  1. says

    Have you ever tryed Self Myofascial Release with a foam roller or rolling pin? If so how do they compare with Myofascial Therapy?

    Thanks for the info,
    Nick

  2. Demetrius says

    A few years ago I got myself a facet dysfunction. It was a combination of 1) having an office job, 2) Pushing too hard on squats and deads – back started to round and tuck, just as you describe. Also found out I had a slight leg length discrepency and my glutes weren’t firing properly. Come to find out I was full of trigger points. Self-myofacial release has been my savior. Start with a tennis ball and a foam roller. As you release and get used to it, you can move to a lacrosse ball and pvc pipe. I’ve also recently purchased the theracane (google it) which allows you to generate some good leverage to get into deeper muscles. There’s also a good book, “The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief, Second Edition” by Clair Davies that has really helped me make sense of how pain in one location (eg: side abs) can actually be from a trigger point somewhere else (deep back muscle). It’s really amazing to release a trigger point in your leg and feel your back crack.

    • JC Deen says

      thanks for the comment. it’s a great book, I agree. sounds like you’ve gotten it figured out.

  3. says

    Didn’t know that the “lower cross syndrome” had a name. I have found it plenty of times in my sedentary physical therapy patients. You are definitely spot on when you say that 4-5 hours/week of stretching will have no effect on 8 hours/day of sitting. My challenge is always to get my patients to be proactive about lifestyle change before it gets to be too much of a challenge.

    • JC Deen says

      Good point on getting them to be proactive about their lifestyle. It’s tough since many of us are often confined to a desk job.

  4. Pablo Hudson says

    I’m a fan of ART, but I wonder about you chiropractor’s “cracks and pops” comment. Chiropractic was founded on the idea of nerve impingement due to spinal “subluxation.” Although this has not been scientifically validated and has in fact been refuted many times, some chiropractors continue to believe in this nonsensical jargon. So be careful.

  5. MikeK says

    JC,

    I’m experiencing a similar problem and am going to visit a local ART practitioner soon. In the meantime, I am left with a serious L/R imbalance between my legs (left hip flexors much tighter than left which resulted in right leg doing most of the work in squats and deads for months). Any advice on the best way to go about fixing this imbalance before returning to squats/deads? Much appreciated…

    MK

    • JC says

      Perhaps you can switch to single leg work, pistol squats, step ups. Then make sure you are stretching and getting the ART treatment regularly. It will get better, just remember it takes time. I am a ton better than I was before I began treatment but not 100% yet.

      • says

        …and bulgarian split squats.
        I have a skeletal hip imbalance, which over years of training lead to muscular imbalance and very poor glute activation. As of October, I had very tight hip flexors, severe hip pain inside the joint when squatting and continued to have a flat ass. All time 1RM squat PR was 330 (shallow) lbs done a couple years prior. In October I could not not squat 205lbs without pain. I cut all bilateral loading (deadlifts too) out of my program and switched to weighted pistols and bulgarian split squats. I made rapid progress in my lifts and my ass grew. Three days ago I did a test squat: 315×5 and 365×2 easy below parallel without noticeable effort. No pain, gallons left in the tank.

        If you have hip imbalances and/or poor glute activation or development I highly recommend subbing in one legged work either partially or entirely for several months. The bulgarian split squats also act as a great weighted hip flexor stretch.

        Once I get my squat form back, with my current muscle mass I’ll be squatting over 400 for reps no problem.

        • MikeK says

          That is very encouraging. I have recently added split squats, lunges, and one legged RDL’s into my lower body work, and as of yesterday removed all two leg movements. Currently squatting in low 300’s, so hopefully a few months away while I resolve my issues and focus on single leg work will not result in much strength/muscle loss. Based on your experience, doesn’t sound like it will be much of a problem. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  6. JC says

    Busting them up? I haven’t had that problem, the ones I have are pretty sturdy, actually.

  7. says

    JC, I used to use the tennis ball for the same parts but kept on busting them up. Switched to the lacrosse ball. Both are good.

  8. JC says

    @Natalia: I like the standard, 3′ size. I have a hard time finding one that is firm enough though, hence the reason to make my own. That and I am cheap.

  9. Natalia says

    Good read, JC. I was thinking of picking up a set of foam rollers. Then I thought, maybe a whole set (different sizes) is not necessary? What size would u advise?

  10. JC says

    @Mike: I also use a PVC pipe wrapped in foam. It’s more firm than any other foam roller I have used. I really like it. I use a tennis ball for my shoulders, feet and calves.

  11. says

    I’ve been foam rolling for the last few years – definitely helpful when you work a desk job. But in the last year I found I was wearing out my foam roller too quickly. I switched to using a PVC pipe – same effect – and lacrosse ball.

    Also I’ve been working desk jobs since ’05. The sitting gets annoying, especially when you know what it’s doing to your glutes. One of the things I do is get up and take a walk as often as possible, even if it’s just a few feet. Find it helpful.

  12. Johnny B says

    Do you have a name of the company you used? Is it a franchise? I’m going to start soon I think.

  13. JC says

    @Johnny: Actually, I am doing lots of foam rolling and dynamic warm ups/mobility drills. I will cover these topics in future articles.

    I will not need to continue going so frequently. I have tapered down the visits already and will go once per week here soon, then once every two weeks etc.

  14. Johnny B says

    So, what else are you doing for stretching and MRT on your own? Do you need to go in to the doctor for all treatment, and will you need to continue going?

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