Athletes are constantly pushing their minds and bodies to the limit. Strength, stability, mobility, balance, coordination, and mental resilience are all needed to perform well. But, intense training and repetitive workout regimens can increase the risk for muscle tightness, strain, overuse, and injury. And, they can make solutions such as giving up or quitting more tempting, especially if one’s mental toughness and resilience are not up to par.

Therefore, maintaining a healthy mind and a healthy body are key to an athlete performing at the best of their ability. This highlights the importance of finding ways to care for the mind and the body while training and competing. The importance of finding a treatment methodology that considers all of the factors listed above that contribute to an athlete’s ability to perform well. That’s where myofascial release therapy (MFR) comes into play. Read along to learn about the many benefits MFR therapy has for athletes, and how it can improve athletic performance.

What is myofascial release therapy?
Myofascial release (MFR) is a hands-on, soft tissue technique. The main goal of MFR therapy is to release restricted connective tissue, or fascia. The fascial system is a network of three-dimensional connective tissue within the body. It may be helpful to imagine a web when thinking of fascia. Our fascia surrounds every muscle, bone, nerve, blood vessel, and organ. It even surrounds our cells. (1) Fascia is crucial for providing stability and support to the structures of our bodies. Without the support fascia provides, our bodies wouldn’t be able to sit, stand, or walk, let alone participate in athletic activities. (2)

In its normal state, our fascia is relaxed and wavy. (2) It can stretch and move with no restrictions. But, under the intense physical demands that athletes endure, our fascia can become tight and restricted. This is often described as the fascia becoming “bound down” or adhered to the structures it is surrounding. It can be helpful to think of this adhering as a hardening, similar to how liquid water can harden to ice. When fascia becomes tight or restricted, it can change the way our bodies are able to function. Our balance, joint mobility, and stability may change. We may experience muscle knots, poor blood flow, numbness and tingling, as well as pain. This all can lead to a decrease in athletic capability and performance.

Adhered and restricted fascia is also related to our state of mental resilience. Training vigorously for games and competitions often carries with it a level of stress. But, did you know your stress may be stored in the body as restricted fascia? When our mental landscape becomes inundated by stress and pressure, our body can respond by “binding down” our fascia. Restricted fascia can exert tension-related forces of up to 2,000 pounds per square inch. (2) This excess pressure produces pain and dysfunction. And, that pain and dysfunction can further increase our stress and decrease our ability to perform well.
How does myofascial release therapy work?

MFR therapists restore fascial health by applying gentle, sustained pressure to areas of restricted or “bound down” tissue. While this pressure is applied, the MFR therapist may also provide a gentle stretch. To imagine this approach, it can be helpful to envision the MFR therapist pulling on a piece of taffy with light and constant pressure. The sustained pressure and stretch are held until the restricted tissue starts to release. Although cellular changes in the tissue begin after 90 to 120 seconds, it usually takes sustaining the pressure and stretch for 5 to 7 minutes or more for a full release to occur. (3) This is due to something called the piezoelectric effect.

The piezoelectric effect is a chemical and electrical shift that occurs in the cells of the restricted fascial tissue. The pressure applied by the MFR therapist causes a chemical reaction to occur in our fascial tissue. This reaction is then converted by our cells into electrical charges. These charges have many benefits including pain relief, cellular regeneration, and tissue repair. Harnessing the piezoelectric effect is just one way MFR treatments differ from traditional massage therapy or physical therapy approaches. It is also what allows MFR treatments to enhance patient healing far more than other methods of care.

To better sense and respond to the needs of their patients, MFR therapists are typically slow and deliberate in their treatment. As MFR therapists align with their patients, they are better able to assess areas of restriction. Throughout the treatment, a MFR therapist will sense and follow the fascia as it releases.

This process is similar to ice unthawing – the fascia moves from a solid state back to one that is fluid, relaxed, and wavy. Working in this way allows the MFR therapist and patient to access and heal the root cause of pain and discomfort.
How does myofascial release therapy benefit athletes?
As mentioned above, all athletes require some combination of strength, stability, mobility, balance, coordination, and mental resilience to perform well. MFR therapy helps athletes regain, sustain, and/or amplify each of these qualities. Below are just a few ways MFR therapy can benefit athletic performance:

Increases Range of Motion

Having appropriate range of motion in our joints helps improve our mobility, coordination, balance, and stability. When fascia becomes adhered or restricted, it limits the range of motion our joints have. For athletes, loss of joint range of motion can have significant consequences. Imagine a baseball pitcher who is unable to move their arm overhead. The ability of an athlete to move their joints is directly related to how well they will perform.

MFR therapy has been shown to cause significant gains in joint range of motion post-treatment. (4) And, it does so without impeding muscle function. This combination leads to increased movement efficiency and decreased risk for injury. Some researchers suggest there may be added benefit to performing MFR treatments prior to any other therapeutic modality. The gains in joint range of motion achieved through MFR treatments can make other methods of care more effective.

Maintains Muscle Function
Some therapeutic techniques, particularly those that are hands-on, can impact muscle function. For example, after a deep tissue massage you may feel sore and your muscles might even feel fatigued. If an athlete were to perform immediately following treatment, they would likely not be at the top of their game. Although you may experience some residual soreness following MFR treatments, research suggests it has no negative impact on muscle function. (4) For athletes, this is great news – there is no cost for the relief you will experience.
Reduces Pain

It is not uncommon for athletes to experience acute pain and discomfort. This is often due to intense training, overuse, or even injury. If left untreated, acute pain can progress into pain that is chronic. And, chronic pain is much more complex to treat. Luckily, MFR therapy can help treat chronic pain and acute pain.

By releasing areas of restriction, MFR therapists restore health to our fascial tissue. This act alone can help decrease physical symptoms of pain. MFR therapists also approach patient care holistically. They will help you find and identify the root cause of your pain. Identifying the source of your discomfort leads to more effective treatments and longer-lasting pain relief.

Improves Flexibility
Having poor flexibility can impact an athlete’s strength, mobility, stability, and balance. It also can increase their risk of injury. When an athlete’s fascia is restricted, their muscles are not able to move as they normally would.

To better imagine this, it may be helpful to think about what happens to our skin when it meets liquid glue. Adhered fascia is similar to dried glue – it makes whatever is beneath it stiff and challenging to move. When an MFR therapist releases fascial restrictions during treatment, they are restoring the proper function to both the fascial system and the muscular system. This balance allows our muscles to stretch and lengthen to the best of their ability.

Increases Circulation
Adhered fascia can compress our nerves and blood vessels. Ultimately, this can cause changes in our circulation. Due to its hands-on approach, MFR treatments naturally encourage an increase in circulation. But, by restoring mobility to our fascial tissue, MFR treatments restore balance in our circulatory system, too.

For athletes, proper circulation is needed in order to perform well. And, it is important for muscle recovery and healing. Increased blood flow means more oxygen and nutrients are traveling throughout the body. And, more oxygen and nutrients means more fuel for our muscles – fuel that they need to function and recover well.

Improves Posture
When we are practicing poor posture, the structures of the body have to work in ways they aren’t meant to. Certain muscles may become overworked while others may become underworked. The result of this is an imbalance in our muscular system, and poor posture to show for it. Athletes who perform the same motion multiple times, such as a pitcher or swimmer, may have an increased risk for developing poor posture and muscular imbalances.

Poor posture and muscular imbalances cause our fascia to become restricted and adhered as it works to counteract our poor alignment. Over time, this body positioning will cause pain and increase an athlete’s risk for injury. Through MFR treatments, the fluidity and mobility of our fascial tissue can be restored. This restoration promotes proper posture and skeletal alignment which can amplify athletic performance.

Reduces Stress

MFR therapy recognizes that stress can be stored in the body as restricted fascia. MFR treatments help relieve stress directly by releasing fascial restrictions. They also help relieve stress by restoring balance in our nervous system.

It is common for athletes to experience high levels of stress. And, when we experience chronic stress our nervous system can become stuck in its ‘fight or flight’ mode. This can have a negative impact on a very important nerve in the body called the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is related to the part of our nervous system that promotes rest and relaxation. The vagus nerve and our fascia are also closely interconnected. By releasing restricted fascia, our vagus nerve is able to function properly. This can trigger a ripple effect of stress-reducing changes in the body which can help athletes approach stress-inducing challenges with ease.

Enhances the Mind-Body Connection

MFR treatments invite patients to build deeper connections with their bodies by emphasizing the mind-body connection. During MFR treatments, patients have the opportunity to tune in to their bodies. As MFR therapists apply pressure and stretch, patients can become more aware of the position of their bodies in space. They can notice how their body and mind are responding to the treatment they are receiving.

This enhanced mind-body connection has many benefits for athletic performance. Improved body awareness can lead to improved coordination, balance, and stability. It also contributes to an athlete’s mental resilience. They may find themselves more equipped to perform well under times of pressure or stress.

A holistic, individualized approach

MFR therapy offers a holistic approach that can be modified to fit the unique needs of each athlete. And, it’s a one-stop-shop for restoring and improving the strength, stability, mobility, balance, coordination, and mental resilience athletes need to perform well. In this way, MFR treatments become a valuable tool for athletes who are looking to hone their athletic capabilities and improve their overall performance, all while reducing their pain and risk of injury.

If you’re considering adding MFR therapy to your treatment regimen, it is essential to work with a certified MFR therapist. They will be able to assess your needs and create a customized treatment plan to help you achieve optimal results. Get in touch with a certified MFR therapist today to learn more.


  1. Juett, T & Barnes, J. F. (1988). An introduction for the patient.
  2. Elliott, J. (2003). Easing pain with myofascial release. News-line for Physical Therapists & PT-Assistants.
  3. Murphy, J. (n.d.) Myofascial release proves beneficial in acute and sports medicine settings.
  4. Ajimsha, M. S., Al-Mudahka, N. R., & Al-Madzhar, J. A. (2015). Effectiveness of myofascial release: systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Journal of bodywork and movement therapies, 19(1), 102–112.