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John F. Barnes' Myofascial Release Debunked in Depth

Once upon a time, I belonged to an amateur athletic team that meant a lot to me--in addition to the joy of athletics, the members of the team were my friends and confidants.

Then our coach became deeply invested the woo in John F. Barnes' myofascial release therapy and John E. Upledger's craniosacral therapy, to the point that team members were required to have a certain number of hours of treatment per month, from approved practitioners, to stay on the team.

I quit the team.

Jason Silvernail, writing at MyPhysicalTherapySpace has written a series debunking the Barnes approach to myofascial release (JFB-MFR).  The general tone?

This is just another example of the kind of "theory" behind the John F.
Barnes Myofascial Release approach. More physical impossibilities and
blatant ignorance rolled up with marketing and designed to prey on
those in pain.

Isn't it time to stop the madness?

and

Everyone should realize that the foundation laid by energy healing, repressed memories in the tissue, the misunderstanding of quantum mechanics, and a good dose of postmodern thinking leads directly to all sorts of outlandish claims in the world of [John F. Barnes and Myofascial Release]

Hopefully we can all see why the therapy culture in general and the theories and treatments we teach, promote, and research need firm foundations in science. While there is relatively little outright quackery in the physical therapy world, JFB-MFR appears to be a notable exception to that trend - one worth addressing with our peers, patients, and colleagues.

The series:

Myofascial Release: Time to Stop the Madness

Myofascial Release--Time to Stop the Madness #2: Energy Medicine

Myofascial Release--Time to Stop the Madness #3: Stored/Repressed Memories

Myofascial Release--Time to Stop the Madness #4: the Quantum Scam

Myofascial Release--Time to Stop the Madness #5: the Claims

Examples of woo claims:

List of things reported on the MFR listserv that JFB-MFR is responsible for or concepts that are key to JFB-MFR:

  • improving the physical movement, emotional responsiveness, and verbal expressions of an autistic child through treating them with MFR
  • partially healing or “filling in” of a young child’s cleft lip and palate
  • improving the experience of Restless Legs Syndrome by getting to the source of the problem – fascial restrictions, of course!
  • allowing “access” to a deceased relative
  • treating physical symptoms by reliving and emotionally “feeling” past physical or emotional traumas
  • encouraging the relief of physical symptoms by deliberately not thinking about their resolution but by feeling what they are trying to “teach” you
  • finding other areas to “treat” by looking at traumas of the distant past – including while in the womb as a fetus!
  • avoiding medication because it “drives the memory of the trauma deeper into the cells creating more havoc down the road.”
  • treating gastrointestinal reflux by releasing stuck fascia in the diaphragm
  • mentally and emotionally “holding on” to experiences, places, or people that are thought to be bad for you creates fascial restrictions which will return after they are “released” if the experiences, places, or person is not “let go”.
  • treating the coccyx as “anything that happens there” is “reflected” all the way to the head
  • ensuring a patient was “OK” and without a head injury after a car accident by checking the cranial rhythm
  • the importance of having your own children treated regularly to avoid the development of restrictions and trauma in the fascia
  • the importance of finding the “pattern” you are “stuck in” and how to move past it – this is usually referencing a pattern of thinking or behaving that creates fascial restrictions
  • large changes in the head shape and neurological function of children can be created through gentle myofascial release
  • MFR can release and remove breast cysts

I found the myofascial release series from this post at ABC Therapeutics Occupational Therapy blog.

MyPhysicalTherapySpace is a service offered by Evidence in Motion (EIM),

Evidence in Motion is an education and business practice consultation company whose sole reason for existence is to create and promote a culture of evidence-based practice within the physical therapy profession. In striving to achieve our mission, we aim to foster the global sharing of information and ideas and thus advance evidence-based physical therapy practice, research, and education around the world.

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