Many people have never heard of myofascial release before they visit this Rockford clinic, but once they see the possibilities they’re often amazed.
Following a bodily injury, many people experience prolonged pain in areas like the neck, shoulder or back. Sometimes, pain can linger for years, despite multiple doctor visits. While pain medication is one approach to easing bodily discomfort, Brynwood Myofascial Therapy offers an alternative solution: myofascial release.
This technique treats muscle stiffness and discomfort by way of massaging and stretching areas of pain. The goal is to stretch and loosen the fascia – the connective tissue that surrounds and holds every organ, muscle, bone, blood vessel and nerve fiber – thus relieving pain where it resides.
Though the approach has been around for decades, many people are still unaware of its potential – until Gosia Zasadny, owner of Brynwood Myofascial Therapy, 6072 Brynwood Dr., in Rockford, shows them what’s possible.
“I like to do this because it helps people,” she says. “I get really happy when I have a great treatment and someone comes to me and says, ‘You changed my life.’ That is a great feeling.”
Fascia is tissue that resembles a spiderweb, in that it’s soft and loose. It appears in three layers: the superficial fascia, found directly beneath the skin; the deep fascia, which surrounds muscles, bones and tendons; and the visceral fascia, which surrounds the heart, lungs and abdominal organs.
“Imagine fascia being a structure like a sponge which holds all the organs and tissue in your body,” Zasadny says. “Basically, it looks like a sponge which is very elastic and alive. It consists of the fibular structure, which is sturdier, and the substance that goes through it.”
Healthy fascia allows muscle fibers to slide past each other, transporting materials throughout the body. When an injury or illness occurs, the fascia becomes tight and starts to restrict around muscles. These “scars” or restrictions are undetectable by MRI, says Zasadny, and although they won’t at first cause much pain, the restrictions can accumulate over time, thus surrounding organs and muscles and reducing their natural functions – which, in turn, causes pain.
The myofascial release approach uses sustained pressure to the affected area in a way that releases the restricted tissue. Unlike a massage, this approach more closely resembles physical therapy, as it’s performed while a patient is lying down, sitting or standing up.
“This is quite a dynamic treatment,” says Zasadny. “Sometimes it looks like a massage and pressure point application, but we also stretch and do traction, neck pull, arm pull, different position pulls. Sometimes we’ll roll the patient and gently release the tissue.”
Typically, Zasadny and her team will apply gentle pressure to the affected spot for 3 minutes or more. The longer pressure is applied, the more it loosens restrictions in the fascia, Zasadny explains, and the more likely it is to have longer-lasting results.
As pressure is being applied, shakes, convulsions, shocks or tremors might occur throughout the patient’s body. This is completely natural and part of the release, Zasadny says. The following day the patient may have more pain but after that, the pain is reduced or completely gone.
“This is the most effective technique I’ve done in my life,” says Zasadny. “I’ve done it for a long time, and I simply see results. The patients are coming and then they regain better range of motion, they regain painless range of motion and they come back and jump back to life much more quickly.”
Myofascial release has been around since the 1960s when osteopath Robert Ward coined the phrase. It was then popularized by John F. Barnes, an author and international lecturer who was the first physical therapist to implement this practice. Barnes is now on the council of Advisors of the American Back Society and a member of the American Physical Therapy Association. He’s instructed over 50,000 therapists worldwide in his approach. Zasadny knew of the approach long before she attended a Barnes seminar in 2011, but her attendance was transformational.
Growing up in Poland, Zasadny played basketball for years and sustained knee issues that required multiple surgeries. She pursued a degree in physical therapy and went on to work with infants in an early intervention program. She moved to the U.S. in September 1995 and worked as a physical therapist in a variety of clinical settings, from hospitals and outpatient therapy to inpatient therapy, nursing homes, schools and more. While her work helped people to regain motion in their bodies, she also recognized the potential for the Barnes approach on her patients.
“I was always curious,” she says. “It’s not like I don’t know anything about other techniques. I do all this stuff, but when I went to myofascial release seminars and started to implement it, my patients in an intense rehab nursing home started to heal much faster than other patients.”
The technique differs from traditional massage mainly in that it works the body’s connective tissue to relieve tightness. Massage, by comparison, focuses on the muscles to relive stress and tension. Myofascial therapists like Zasadny apply gentle pressure and sustained stretching in problem areas rather than massaging into the muscles, she explains. This is what allows the body to engage in the release of the tightened fascia.
Zasadny and her team help patients to relieve pain related to a number of conditions, including back pain, fibromyalgia, lymphedema, headaches, sports injuries, repetitive strain injuries, unresolved pain and arthritis.
Zasadny joined Brynwood Myofascial in May 2012 as a partner and co-owner with Marla Monge, a licensed massage therapist who opened the business in September 2010 and retired in 2019. These days, the team consists of two licensed physical therapists and three licensed massage therapists who offer myofascial release and traditional massage. Zasadny’s husband, Andy Zasadny, also works at Brynwood Myofascial Therapy as a physical therapist who does myofascial release.
What happens inside the clinic is just the start. Zasadny and her team additionally teach their patients how to continue myofascial release at home, to keep the fascia loosened long-term. A book of stretches and some quick instruction help patients to understand what they should do and how they can apply gentle pressure just like their therapist might.
“It’s very easy to educate – we just tell them to close their eyes and feel,” Zasadny says. “The stretches must be gentle so they can sustain them for several minutes. It cannot be too harsh. In general, while it doesn’t feel gentle, this is a very gentle technique.”
Zasadny emphasizes quality over quantity with her patients. Three or four stretches held for longer times will produce greater results – relaxed muscles and improved mobility – than 10 stretches performed for shorter periods, she says.
The length of treatment time varies with each patient and may be impacted by the severity of one’s fascial restrictions, the patient’s ultimate goals, and the limits imposed by insurance companies. Zasadny encourages patients to schedule as many sessions as they think they may need.
She believes the proof is in the number of people who continue to come back, long after their initial treatments.
“Those people don’t come here because we tell them to – they come here because they need us,” Zasadny says. “Chronic patients will come back because we help them. So, instead of taking medication, they simply feel better and are able to operate on a higher level. This is why they don’t go somewhere else. They come here because it works.”