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What is the difference between the Barnes approach and other types of myofascial release?

The John F. Barnes Myofascial Release Approach has been around for several decades. John is a physical therapist who practiced in a traditional model until his own injury.  He developed his approach during the process of helping himself heal after traditional approaches did not work. The Barnes approach utilizes sustained pressures manually applied by the therapist. The depth of pressure and length of the hold are unique to each client based on the tension in their body. The holds require a minimum of 1-3 minutes to effectively soften the fascia.  The Barnes approach also incorporates rebounding and unwinding techniques.

Other techniques may address the fascia but not in the unique manner of the J.F Barnes approach.  Listen to Carol M. Davis, DPT, EdD, MS, FAPTA describe fascia and the J.F. Barnes approach: Part 1 and Part 2.

What is fascia?

Fascia is connective tissue that surrounds and supports every structure and cell in our body.  Fascia creates a three-dimensional web of support that infuses, surrounds, protects, and sustains our body’s function. It surrounds every muscle and connects muscle groups supporting functional movement. Without fascia, we would lose our shape and structure and become little more than a pile of bones and organs.  Healthy fascia is as important as the health of any other part of our body and mind. When the fascia is healthy our tissues move and glide freely without restriction or pain. Fascia cannot be seen on traditional medical imaging and is often missed as the culprit of pain and dysfunction.

Why does fascia become tight?

The facia’s role is to support and protect. When the body detects trauma, the fascia tightens to protect the surrounding tissues. This trauma may be in the form of a blunt injury such as a fall or car accident or it may be a surgical incision. The trauma may also be in the form of stress which can result in continual tension in the body and poor posture. Prolonged tension and poor posture can results in as much fascial restriction as a physically traumatic event.

Why does fascia cause pain and discomfort?

Imagine the fascia as a web of loosely woven fabric. All our tissues move through this web including blood vessels and nerves. Now imagine the fabric shrinking and the weave becoming tighter. This puts pressure on all your tissues including muscles, nerves and blood vessels resulting in pain, discomfort or restricted motion. Fascia can continue tightening long after the original injury. This may be a result of pain, protective posture, lack of movement or poor overall health and wellness. This can result in fascial restrictions and pain in areas that appear unrelated to the original injury.

MFR can be used to treat almost any type of acute or chronic pain including but not limited to: upper, middle or lower back pain, shoulder pain, elbow or wrist pain, neck pain, hip pain, knee pain, foot pain.  I am a huge advocate for trying conservative intervention prior to moving towards more invasive interventions.  Take some time to listen to this NPR interview with Dr. Carol Hartigan if you are dealing with chronic back pain and not sure where to turn.

Many people I encounter tell me they don’t have pain.  They describe what they feel as tightness or discomfort.  They describe pulling sensations between parts of the body that don’t make sense based on the traditional understanding of how our body is organized. Because the fascial system is a three-dimensional system that moves throughout the entire body, connections can be experienced that may seem odd. Releasing the tension reduces the pull.

Why does myofascial release help?

Fascia is the strongest tissue in the body. A fascial restriction can cause up to 2000 lbs. of pressure per square inch on the surrounding tissues. If the problem is in the fascia, repeated stretching of the muscles and other therapies are likely to be effective only temporarily, if at all. Myofascial release relieves the pressure by facilitating the fascia’s return to its more fluid and flexible state. This reduction in pressure eases pain and allows for a more fluid motion of the body. Opening the tissues supports the effectiveness of other therapies.

What conditions can MFR help? Click here.


What is included in MFR treatment?


A thorough evaluation including:

  • The breadth and depth of injuries you have sustained over your lifetime. All types of injuries can contribute to patterns of fascial restrictions.

  • An evaluation of your body alignment (posture) and movement to identify restrictions, holding patterns and habits.

  • A brief discussion related to your wellness habits and goals for therapy.

Intervention includes placing gentle yet firm tension on the tissues in the restricted areas. This may include pushing into restrictions or pulling the extremities to open restrictions near the joints.  The depth of pressure/pull is unique to each person depending on the thickness of their tissues. Releases are held for several minutes to allow the fascia to respond and relax. Restrictions often initially feel tender or painful. During a release, many people report a sensation of lengthening, relaxation, movement, warmth or tingling.

Each session typically includes recommendations for home stretching and movement to support continued improvement and the opening of the fascial system. Every session is different and is based solely on the needs of the client in that moment. The frequency of duration of treatment is also based on the individual needs of the client.

Myofascial release is often combined with traditional therapies and a home stretching program specifically designed to help maintain gains achieved during a session.

Intervention sessions typically last about 60 minutes. Wear loose clothing such as a tank top and shorts. Avoid putting lotion on the skin several hours before treatment. Drink lots of water prior to and after a treatment.

Want to learn more about fascia and myofascial release? Visit the John F. Barnes MFR Approach website.

Really want to dig into more science? A great resource is:

Architecture of Human Living Fascia by Jean-Claude Guimberteau and Colin Armstrong.

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