What is the fascia and myofascial release?
The fascia is a tough connective tissue which spreads throughout the entire body in an uninterrupted 3-dimensional web from head to toe. It surrounds every structure and system in the body, as well as being part of every cell and fibre. When the fascia becomes restricted from injury, trauma, surgery, physical or emotional stress, it solidifies and tightens, creating a crushing pressure of up to 2000lbs per square inch on muscles, nerves and the circulatory system which causes pain and dysfunction. Myofascial release (MFR) works to gently release these restrictions, restoring movement, balance and freedom.
The fascia is made up of two components: versatile, dynamic micro-tubules, that create the web type structure, and then the substance between known as the ground substance. When trauma occurs, it is the ground substance that solidifies, and then the fibres all get stuck together causing restriction.
Nothing in the natural world is linear and therefore nothing in the body is linear. We are 3-dimensional fluid beings, prey to the forces of nature such as gravity. If you look to nature, you will see there are no straight lines. It is hard for us to think in multiple dimensions, and also so hard to get beyond the traditional way of working in healthcare (and life in general) where we try to do things in a logical, straight lined manner. MFR looks at the body as a dynamic, whole system, recognising that the place we feel pain or discomfort is often not the source of tightness/restriction. The whole body must be treated to bring about maximum relief of symptoms, stress, tension and pain. Within the body, everything affects everything. For example an injured foot can lead to altered gait, affecting pelvic alignment, which then has a knock on effect on how the torso is held, painful shoulders, sore necks, and headaches. We may not notice this chain of events occur and therefore only be aware when the chain of reaction reaches the head and causes headaches. Part of MFR involves listening to the body and following the signs and patterns that lead us to the source of restriction, rather than just the symptoms.
Myofascial Release, using the John F. Barnes approach, is a gentle, hands on technique to address fascial restriction and its consequences throughout the body. Through palpation and seeing how your body moves, areas of tightness will be identified, and skillful treatment applied to affected areas. As the fascia is a whole body system, treatment with Myofascial Release aims to have a positive impact on the entire body. During treatment you may experience the advanced therapeutic movement aspect of Myofascial Release known as Myofascial Unwinding. This utilises the body’s inherent wisdom and allows for deep, and effective releases of old, restrictive patterns held within the connective tissue system. Through a combination of Myofascial Release, Myofascial Unwinding and also Myofascial Rebounding, long lasting relief and positive change can be experienced. Where appropriate, clients are also taught various self treatment methods so that you are able to continue the progress made during treatment between sessions.
Why is myofascial release important for the body?
We are all familiar with the phrase “stress is stored in the body”; the fascia is physiologically where stress of all kinds is held, and it can cause havoc, both physically, and also emotionally. Tension in the body can have a big impact on our emotional health, energy levels and general attitude to life. Holding on so tightly is hard work! Most people are familiar with the concept of the fight or flight response. There is also a third aspect to this concept known as the freeze response. If we look to nature for an analogy, this would be the rabbit in the headlights type effect. When we suffer trauma, whether it’s a one off event such a car accident, or slowly acquired trauma over time from bad posture, unsupportive office chairs, the stresses and strains of 21st century life, this is all stored in the tissue memory. Our body carries a memory of our lives, just like our brain does. Anyone who has ever worked out has probably heard the phrase muscle memory, and experienced how muscle can quickly regain tone, or such things as how we can drive a car whilst not really thinking about it too much. It becomes body wisdom, muscle memory, more of a subconscious thing. Life, trauma, moments in time where we are scared, falls, emotional events, accidents, these events, or build ups of stress over years, lead to the fascia “freezing” for want of a better word. It gets stuck; restricted. As mentioned earlier, the fascia is incredibly strong (an experiment showed that a single sheet of fascia could easily hold up 10-15kg of weight) and can exert pressures of 2000lbs per square inch on pain-sensitive structures such as nerves, blood vessels, the lymphatic system etc. When this happens, the optimum function of the body is compromised. Things like the ability to take in water, nutrients etc can be affected on a cellular level as if the fascia is tight, it can be a bit like pouring water on a stone; it doesn’t get through the cell wall. There is a lot of research being published about the links with fascial restriction and all sorts of chronic conditions and illnesses.
Who can benefit from myofascial release?
Pretty much everyone! We all have fascial restriction to a degree. We all suffer stress in our lives, which subsequently affects our health on every level. We all have to keep up with the manic pace of society and the demands and expectations of living. We also do not live in a culture where self-care and health are always prioritised. Deadlines, financial gain and social acclaim are often put first. We don’t always get enough down time to take care of ourselves. We all sit badly at times, or stand for hours on end, or have had accidents, injuries, emotional stress.. All of this impacts the body as a whole, and causes restriction, which can then lead to symptom patterns that aren’t always easily diagnosed. Fascial restriction does not show up on standard medical imaging and so a lot of people with chronic pain are told there is nothing wrong with them, when if anyone actually touched their body or looked at how their whole body is holding, they would feel the tension and restriction that is there. We see a lot of clients who come to MFR as a last resort, having been told nothing can be done for them, and then they see huge improvements from treatment.
What issues can be caused by damage to the fascia?
Pretty much anything and everything you could think of! Recent research is hailing the fascial system as the most important system in the body, and the most overlooked. Up until recently, fascia has only been studied in dead people where it is dehydrated. Then people such as Jean-Claude Guimbarteau, a hand surgeon from France, began to photograph and video living fascia and what was revealed was fascinating and turned the whole traditional view of the role of the fascia on it’s head. The main obvious symptoms are pain, tension, fatigue, lethargy, lack of flexibility, lack of fluidity of movement, then also things such as digestive problems and period pain can also be caused by fascial restriction.