In my search for an uninjured running season, I tried myofascial release therapy sessions. I received myofascial release therapy for foot pain by a Licensed Massage Therapist, certified in the John F. Barnes’ Myofascial Release Approach. The treatment focuses on releasing restrictions of the body’s fascia, the fibrous tissues that surround your muscles and organs, to restore normal movement patterns.
Myofascial Release Therapy for Foot Pain
If you’ve followed this blog more often than not, you’ll know I’ve dealt with foot and ankle injuries since I started running. Achille’s, medial arches, plantar fascia – sometimes nondescript – injuries have impaired base-building in 2014 and marathon training in 2015. I feel constantly on the physical edge of injury, affecting my training and mindset.
X-rays and ultrasound have shown no problems. Custom insoles (orthotics) with metatarsal pads have allowed me to keep running. But the problem isn’t solved, so I’ve explored other options, leading me to MFR.
John F. Barnes is a physical therapist who developed this particular approach in 1970’s after injuring his back and not recovering through the traditional treatments that he was taught as a physical therapist. It is very much a holistic treatment, which is unlike much of the traditional treatment I have received for my injury (only medication and imaging; I had to demand orthotics).
My First Myofascial Release Session
Questionnaire and clothing
I filled out a questionnaire about my current pains and desired outcomes. We discussed the survey at length and she educated me on the principles of her treatment approach.
Prior to the appointment, my particular therapist suggested I wear or bring shorts & sports bra, bra & underwear, or a 2 piece bathing suit. Discuss with your therapist their recommendations and your comfort level. Do not wear lotion so that the therapist can engage with your skin and fascia effectively.
After I changed, she evaluated me from several angles. In my particular instance, she noted my body’s asymmetry and hip alignment.
Once on the massage table, she told me my only job was to let go. I was to let go physically, relaxing everything, and let her subtly manipulate me. I was also to let go of the analytical mind. She spent 60 minutes holding very light pressures in different spots, moving my legs and feet. It was all very subtle and light, although she requested I let her know if the pressure became too much.
In future sessions, I would be asked to lie in different positions on the table, and sometimes asked to stand. She has worked on my hips, legs, and feet. She has even worked on my shoulders and head. I find it all very unusual from typical medical treatments and at times different from typical massages.
She walked me through various exercises to do at home, providing a soft inflatable ball to use. I used the ball to put pressure on my psoas, glutes, and the top of my IT band to loosen my hips and release the tension that has built up, 5 minutes for each spot. That time seemed intimidating at first, but I’ve learned to enjoy that time spent in quiet. She showed me a different way to loosen my calves using the foam roller. If you elevate the roller and your leg on a stool or table, you can put more pressure on it than from the typical position on the floor. She encouraged resting on tight spots, and not rolling.
She also encouraged me to start stretching my feet more, a little at a time, something I’ve feared doing. She taught me exercises for that, too.
Myofascial Release Therapy for Foot Pain
I was hesitant to write this post at all, because I’m undecided on MFR’s role in my injury management.
I have been to 5 sessions. I do the at-home exercises every day. At times, I think the treatment is too subtle, but I consider that my problem is also subtle. X-ray or ultrasound reveal nothing. It is only magnified by running copious miles to train for marathons.
Sometimes the treatment feels… a little whimsical? It is definitely more Eastern medicine and holistic than I’m accustomed. I read John Barnes’s book. It’s very mystical and out there. But if the treatment works for me, does it matter?
Along with other support activities, I have run 100 miles in my first month of marathon training without sustained pain. I have never started a training program with such gusto and such lack of injury.
While I am still skeptical, I am also not dumb. Something is working. I will continue sessions into my November marathon, given that I can continue to afford them.
- Mayo Clinic on MFR for back pain
- NASM’s literature review on soft-tissue manual therapies, including MFR
- John F. Barnes’ Myofascial Release Approach