The Benefits of Myofascial Release

An Owner's Easy Guide.

Posted Jan 26, 2022 · Updated Mar 12, 2022.

A portrait of Maddie Wigley

Maddie Wigley · 4 minute read.

A beneficial manual therapy for all competition horses.

Myofascial release is a soft tissue manual therapy that involves the application of pressure to muscles and connective tissue. The elastic properties of muscles within horses means great effects of mobilisation of muscle through myofascial release techniques can be achieved.

Myofascial release can benefit issues such as:

  • Trigger points (tight muscle points within tight muscle fibres)
  • Muscle tension and imbalances
  • Pain relief
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Muscle restrictions causing reduced movement
  • Muscle spasm

Improving these issues can result in:

  • Improved bascule over fences
  • Increased stride length
  • Improved cross-country time
  • Reduced recovery time between competitions
  • Reduced chance of injury
  • Increased power and flexibility – often leading to better scores

Myofascial release involves the application of a long load and long duration stretch to the affected muscular regions. A light pressure is applied to the issue, such as a trigger point, for several seconds until a release of the tissue can be felt.

young foal being stroked

Improving these issues can result in:

  1. Ensure the horse is comfortable and relaxed. Ideally this should take place in a stable where the horse is secure and unable to escape.
  2. Locate the tight muscle fibres (no spring should be felt when touching the muscle and the muscle may look tighter than others during movements).
  3. Apply gentle pressure with fingertips to the area by pushing down into the muscle. Ensure to watch the horse for signs of discomfort (ears going back, moving away, lifting a leg).
  4. Pressure should continue to be applied until the “springy feel” stops and a firm barrier is felt.
  5. Pressure can continue to be held when this hard feeling muscle barrier is felt.
  6. Pressure can be stopped when a ‘release’ is seen – this includes licking, chewing, or yawning or when this hard barrier seems to soften.
A human being massaged by their neck.

It works in the same way that a massage for humans works - and it relaxes your pets too!

How does this work and when can it be used?

  • Myofascial release works because of the viscoelasticity of the fascial tissue (the elasticity within the tissue allowing it to stretch without being damaged).
  • The best times for myofascial release are before a competition to warm the muscles up and after the competition to relax the muscles and remove any toxins after the horse has worked.
  • This technique can also be done when being worked in the horse’s weekly routine but no more than 1-2 times per week.
  • If you suspect your horse requires this more frequently or is showing signs of discomfort, contact a Vet or Vet physio.
  • Any muscle can be targeted with myofascial release and a this is a tool that can be administered anywhere and at any time – perfect for when travelling for competitions!

Areas to target:

Many studies have been done which highlight the benefits of myofascial release within competition horses. One study conducted in 2015 concluded that myofascial release therapy “shows encouraging effectiveness, emerging as a strategy with a solid evidence base and tremendous potential”. Myofascial release can also result in an increased blood flow to the area targeted which can reduce any swelling or build-up of fluids. Horses, particularly those in work, are often subjected to areas of stress and strain in their bodies. Below are the common areas of equine stress points which can be targeted with this technique:

What causes the issues targetted?

  • Muscle tension has been known to result from repeated contractions which will be common in competing horses due to the demand required on their bodies.
  • Some muscles perform more work than others which can result in imbalances. Some of these muscles often become overstressed than others which results in tension, such as trigger points (tight points within tight muscle fibres).
  • Addressing issues within the myofascial system will result in optimal performance in the competition horse. An example of where myofascial release is beneficial is shown below: trigger points beneath the shoulder can often restrict movement within the forelimb and myofascial release will reduce these.
A horse being massaged.

Data confirms the benefit and necessity of myofascial release as a therapy tool due to a study, also in 2015, that assessed the effects of myofascial release in 6 horses. Results highlighted a 58% decrease in muscle tension across multiple muscles more than 48 hours after treatment which shows the length of muscle relaxation. From this, it is evident that myofascial release is essential in allowing the horse to relax and reduce stress/tension that has built up during their work. Adopting this technique can significantly reduce the chance of injury to overused muscles and allow the horse to recover more quickly so they are ready for the next competition. The easy addition of myofascial release to your routine may be the tool you need to win.

A person kissing their horse on the nose.

For more information on Myofascial Release and Manual Therapies take a look at our treatment section on our website.

  1. Acutt, E., Jeune, S., and Pypendop, B. 2019. ‘Evaluation of the Effects of Chiropractic on Static and Dynamic Muscle Variable in Sport Horses’, Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 72(1), pp. 84-90.
  2. Brockman, T. 2017. ‘A Case Study Utilising Myofascial Release, Acupressure and Trigger Point Therapy to Treat Bilateral “Stringhalt” in a 12-Year-old Akhal-Teke Horse’, Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 21(3), pp. 589-593.
  3. Davis, C. (2009) Complementary Therapies in Rehabilitation: Evidence for Efficacy in Therapy. New Jersey: SLACK Incorporated.
  4. Goff, L. 2009. ‘Manual Therapy for the Horse – A Contemporary Perspective’, Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 29(11), pp. 799-808.
  5. Harrison, A., Elbrønd, V and Krasnodebska, M. 2015. ‘Multi-Frequency Bioimpedance and Myofascial Release Therapy: An Equine “Atlasorange1” Validation Study’, Medical Research Archives, 3(3), pp.1-14.
  6. Scott, M and Swenson, L. 2009. ‘Evaluating the Benefits of Equine Massage Therapy: A Review of the Evidence and Current Practices’, Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 29(9), pp. 687-697.