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Myofascial Release: Treatment Approach or...Cult?

I have written previously on the blog about John F. Barnes' Myofascial Release.

I'd like to tell you that that blog series, revealing as it did the depth of quackery and willful scientific ignorance inherent to the method, changed the way this approach was discussed, either on MFR Talk or on Mr Barnes' blog. Unfortunately, that's not the case. In fact, here's an excerpt from John F. Barnes' latest message to those on the MFR Talk list:

I'm in Ocean City, Maryland, presenting my Myofascial Release I class.
The class was very subdued until today. Talk about kicking the pebble
that starts the avalanche! I was treating a young therapist on stage
and she got in touch with a keep wound and started to cry. She went
back in time and her voice sounded very young. The rest of the class
started to sob and wail almost instantaneously. The chaos was powerful
and explosive!

We can see here his allusion to many of the concepts we discussed in the previous blog posts. Explosive chaos - that's what I'm looking for in a CME course. However, he also sent this:

It's been a rough year for most of us. Harsh....Unrelenting... You get
knocked down, you get up and you get knocked down again. It feels like
we are being tested. We are !
Our society taught us to be victims, worrying in fear of what others
may think, never daring to be different, lurking in the shadows.
Our society tried to homogenize us, ridiculing our uniqueness, stamping
out our creativity and intuition, our most important attributes were
taken from us. We can and must reclaim our power and our uniqueness !
Be proud of who you are.  Honor your uniqueness, it is your strength.
As we enter the MFR world we may have not realized that we were going
to be a renegade. A renegade faces challenges, criticism, pain and deep
primal fear.
We are bucking the tide, standing up for our self and for our patients for what we believe and know to be true and important !
As a renegade for change, we run the gauntlet. It is bruising, it is
tough. No matter how many times we get knocked down, we will get up. We
will never give up!
The time has come to lick our wounds, not in self pity, but to
acknowledge our pain, our disappointment, our fear to it's depths so
that we may grow stronger and live our life fully and joyfully.

The "Ancient Warrior" is writing this post for you through me.
If you just felt a tingle in the back of your neck, this message is for YOU !

I have a vision of us individually and as a group connected in a web of love falling into the abyss.
When times get tough, we tend to limit our feeling to get through
things. We need to stop and soften into our feelings fully. Over the
next few days, be with yourself, ask your inner guide for help and
guidance. Then dive into the abyss, let go of control. No brakes and
fall into the depth of your feelings, unresolved emotions, and the
As we "free fall" we will gain more confidence in our strength,
integrity and wisdom. Do this a number of times over the next few days
totally feeling and expressing the primal fear that lies deep in your
heart to allow your broken heart to heal.
Receive MFR treatments regularly, treat yourself daily. No Excuses!,
discipline yourself, and change your attitude. You deserve it. Look
forward to it. Enjoy exploring your inner depths.
It is our responsibility. Much is expected of us. Look at this
responsibility not as a chore, but an honor, something that you have
been chosen for. Next year is going to be huge! Be ready for it.
Massive changes will occur and your strength and clarity is essential
to guide others. "We are the ones we have been waiting for!"
On Sunday night, we will join together by the luminescent web that
connects our hearts and we will leap into the abyss together. We will
fall and fall through our unfelt feelings and obsolete concepts and
just as we feel that all is lost, we will rebound powerfully on a
trampoline, a web of liquid light. We will soar to heights unknown
Commit yourself to this.  There is strength in numbers.
Celebrate having had the courage to run the gauntlet. Be proud of being
a renegade. And let's live our life easily and joyfully !

Who could make this up? It appears to me that JFB-MFR has many characteristics of what some might consider a cult. Looking from the outside (and from the inside, if you subscribe to MFR Talk), we have many characteristics or warning signs of such a phenomenon:

1. Members receive unconditional love, attention, and acceptance from the leader

2. Problems are reduced to one simple explanation, which is repeatedly emphasized

ie, Myofascial restrictions and trapped memories.

3. People get a new identity based on the group

eg, MFR Talk requires you to sign your name with the MFR courses you've taken

4. The group has beliefs or practices that run counter to the prevailing culture or mainstream

5. Members are told that the leader's way is the true path and that outsiders are misinformed and to be mistrusted

6. Members are given constant reinforcement against the ideas of those outside the group

7. Members are exalted for loyalty to the leader and his principles in the face of outside ideas

8. Members are put in physically or emotionally distressing situations

Is JFB-MFR a cult? I don't know. But I've seen enough to wonder about it. It's at least a very strange sociological phenomenon within Physical Therapy, and it also seems to involve many massage therapists and other healthcare providers as well. Of interest is how they seem to want to cast themselves as "renegades", anticipating how far outside the mainstream they are in terms of their "approach". It's this disconnect from actual scientific thought and any real discussion of their theory and method that they are so very proud of. This is exactly the opposite of the movement our profession as a whole is making toward evidence in practice and individual and professional accountability.

In the November 2005 editorial from the Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy, Dr Julie Fritz and Dr Tim Flynn mentioned the importance of controlling unwarranted practice variation. They discussed such variation as a major factor leading to the loss of autonomy of a profession - and even used Myofascial Release as an example.

I think the more we know and understand about such movements in our
profession, the better we can act to move forward toward Vision 2020
with a clear idea about what we want our profession to be - and what we
DON'T want it to be.

Jason Silvernail DPT

Tagged as: 

Comments (10)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 07/23/2008 - 4:50am.

I just read the comments by John Barnes and the criticisms of "myofascial release" by Jason Silvernail.
I felt it prudent to remind readers that John Barnes is by no means the authority on myofascial release. He sounds like a bit of a self absorbed "nutcase" really.
I encourage readers, however, to not feel it compelled to follow suit as Jason pursues his own close minded monologue.
Myofascial release is an extremely effective treatment for chronic pain.

Submitted by Dave (not verified) on Sun, 10/05/2008 - 8:19pm.

Here are various articles DELETED because the practitioners threaten lawsuits.


Submitted by mandaj4467 (not verified) on Sun, 04/26/2009 - 12:31am.

Oh PuhLeeez!! A cult?? You are obviously so close-minded and OUT of touch with anything to do with emotion or an inner-self. Science can only go so far. It amazes me that history continually repeats itself by way of close-minded individuals like yourself. P.S. In case you are still out of the loop, the earth is round and smoking cigarettes does cause cancer.

Submitted by jdwilliams40 (not verified) on Sun, 09/13/2009 - 5:52pm.

I have read the folowing blog and subsequent comments and would like to comment on MFR myself. I took the JFB-MFR course and I disagree with the unwinding course that is being taught. I too have often wondered if this is a cult but would venture to say it is not. We get caught up in the quantum physics of things when diving into MFR classes. I am a practitioner and in now way would I allow what I disagree with to stop me from practicing MFR. At my clinic I offer exclusively MFR treatment. I do not buy into the unwinding and whooping and hollering that goes into the unwinding. It is giving MFR a bad reputation. Fascia is real and working the fascia as well as the muscle is very productive. I have thousands of hours and hundreds of patients that I have seen and all have had at the very least some good results. We are to weigh carefully what we learn and take what we believe and throw out all that goes against one's principles. If not then I guess we become like lemmings that follow the leader blindly until we jump off the cliff.

Submitted by Josibean (not verified) on Tue, 01/19/2010 - 9:58am.

There is more to MFR than John Barnes... suggesting MFR is all quackery because one school takes it to that level is like suggesting eating veggies is useless because the eat-only-raw-foods/vegan activists are quacks. There is such thing as fascia in the body... it does get tight with physical trauma and it can be lengthened with manual techniques. People do on a regular basis recieve relief from pain from this. Occasionally people can have emotional trauma linked to physical trauma, and working that area can invoke memories, especially if it's an area not frequently touched. This is not some out there theory when looked at logically. If working scar tissue from a mastectomy it's highly likely the client will open up about their experience with breast cancer. It's a normal and natural human response, it becomes quackery when a therapist suggests that this is a direct part of the MFR process and that it's not voluntary on the patients end or that MFR will then heal that memory. However expressing emotional issues with physical threatment is a phenomenon that happens. Perhaps John Barnes is a bit egocentric, perhaps he's totally off the wall. I don't know I've never taken his MFR Courses. I have taken MFR courses from other institutes, and find it quite useful in my practice. Please make note that you are refering to one style of MFR, otherwise your credibility for accuracy and knowledge on the topic you are discussing will be just as compromised as those you wish to expose.

Submitted by Hal 85 (not verified) on Sat, 02/13/2010 - 1:05pm.

I signed onto MFR TALK once. Due to the nature of my first post I was accused of attempting to wreck John Barnes MFR.

I posed the question as to why both JFB trained physical therapists that I have gone to seemed to almost specifically avoid direct treatment of active pain producing trigger points in the fascia.

The reason I asked this was because one of a number of therapy visits resulted in strong pains within two hours of the treatment.
I felt that if a practitioner that knew how to work on trigger had neutralized them I would not have had this continuation of pain.

I have had several appointment with the same practitioner since and only one other time did I have a not as positive a result as hoped for.

Before seeing JFB MFR trained therapists, my usual experience was that they "erased" the trigger points during the usually midday appointments but by 6 PM the points were back to creating pain. I had to make use of my self treatment abilities to cope with the pain. At the end of 6 wks of treatments ther was usually no noticeable improvement.

With the JFB MFR treatments there was usually noticeable reduction in pain the first evening and the next day further gains toward getting away from the pain.

Why? Because the JFB approach is to try to find and correct whatever might be causing the trigger points to show up. I have had remissions up to 6 mos in length.

Are they a cult? Some of the verbage I encountered on the MFR Talk message board were a bit far out. One noticeable thing was that in many cases experiencing John Barnes himself especially for some of the ladies that have had Myofascial Pain did inspire respect, reverence- and in cases where the persons Myofascial Pain had been dramatically reduced- Thankfulness!

I do not waste any time with therapists that merely press on your trigger points.

Part of the "cult-like" bonding of the therapists and their "leader" provide an enhancement in mentality that guides their ability to know what to do to help the body heal. There has been in my experience a sensitivity- a being in tune and able to percieve what needs to be done that might not be possible with just learning a few facts from a book or with less "indoctranation".

Submitted by Therapist on the table (not verified) on Sun, 11/14/2010 - 8:58pm.

This blog was shocking to me when I ran across it googling some info on Myofascial Release today. I didn't know that John posted anything that day on the Chat because this was my first experience and class with John Barnes MFR. I went up on that table not having read his book or knowing much about him. All I did know is that I wanted to add to my myofascial release training and take MFR 1 and was encouraged from all the wonderful comments I heard from therapists I ran across in my trainings. I didn't know that I would begin to cry or unwind in front of anyone nor did I realize that the rest of the room responded emotionally until I read this. I responded emotionally and physically simply in the way I naturally felt drawn to respond (which I had not experienced before in a session). I have had clients with no previous knowledge of this work and animals respond with unwinding or emotional releases when I have worked on them as well. I can say that this class changed my life and I have taken almost all of his classes since. It has helped me & my clients immensley. I had learned non John Barnes MFR about 9 years before and never had the amazing results that occur with my clients physically & emotionally that have happened with John's MFR. I must also state that I in no way feel this training is a cult and have in fact worked on clients that sadly were a part of cults. I have felt supported and encouraged to be myself and I do pratice & train in other modalities and will the rest of my life. Thank you for taking the time to read my side of the story and I am very grateful for John Barnes MFR!

Submitted by Rob Johnson (not verified) on Wed, 03/07/2012 - 1:29pm.

There is no research validation that muscle fascia are "connected everywhere", nor that "releasing" "it" will have any effect on problems supposed associated with "it" being bound, or what not.

Submitted by Deborah McGrath (not verified) on Fri, 10/19/2012 - 3:00pm.

Your comments about John Barnes are sad! His work is amazing and if I didn't experience it personally at the first MFR I class I wouldn't have believed it. This is the path to true healing, which until I found MFR, traditional healthcare was failing at helping me! Deborah McGrath, MSPT

Submitted by Anonymous1 (not verified) on Thu, 10/25/2012 - 3:04pm.

Did you feel like you received physical therapy on that table that day, as Barnes advertises? Or do you feel it was a day of self reflection and mental strengthening? Also, I am unable to find the evidence behind this. What evidence do you use to support this treatment in a day of evidence based practice?

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