Yesterday, I talked some about fascia: what it is, how it supports and shapes the body, how it can create pulls in the body. To regain freedom of movement, the fascia needs to be released.
There are many different ways of doing this. One approach is myofascial release. The underlying principal is that myofascia reacts to heat, pressure, and tension. So how can therapist do this with a client lying on a massage table?
Basically, the therapist determines where some of the restriction is and leans their hands onto the client’s body. This is the pressure part of the technique. The heat is generated by the hands and the client’s body.
(A digression – are you aware of your own body heat? First give both your hands a good shake, just to wake them up. Now with your arms by your sides, elbows bent, comfortably hold your hands up with the palms facing each other. Hold them about 6 inches apart. Can you feel any heat between them? Slowly move your hands closer together. Stop when you can feel a warmth between them. Before your hands touch, you should be able to feel a warmth – your body’s heat!)
Back to the release. With the heat and the pressure, the connective tissue will start to “melt”. The therapist will now gently apply a slight pull (stretch) to the tissue. The hands slide apart as the tissue underneath
To you, the client, the sensation can feel like a “rope burn” or a subtle stretch. You beome aware of connections – a pull is going through your body. (This process can give the sensation of a rope burn.)
This whole process is slow – it takes at least 90 seconds for these changes to occur in the body’s tissues.
By changing the underlying fascia, space is being created in the body - space for the muscles which are encased in fascia to move, space for the joints to move freely. Your body stocking no longer restricts you - it now fits you! Explore myofascial release.
It has taken anatomists a long time before they realized that fascia wasn’t just gunk that just got in the way of more important tissue: muscles, bones, and organs. Fascial tissue is the support for the human frame. We would just be a shapeless blob without it!
An example of fascial tissue is the white membrane that surrounds a leg of lamb.
If you don’t like looking at meat, have a look at the orange above. Yes, there is lovely juicy orange flesh. Notice though that the orange flesh is separated into “portions” by thin but tough white material (the pith).
The pith is equivalent to fascia. It supports and separates the sections of the orange. Not only that but if you look at a section of orange, it is itself comprised on very small “droplets” of orange tissue! Without these smaller partitions, the juice would flow out as soon as you cut the orange. (Partitions within partitions!) Fascia is separating, shaping, and supporting the cells – it makes the orange.
Back to your body. Muscles, bones, organs, vessels are supported, separated, and protected by fascia. Fascial tissue gives the body its shape. It is like a body stocking.
Just like a body stocking, no one part of the body moves in isolation. When one part of the body moves, there is a subtle pull/stretch throughout the body - all other parts move to compensate. By the same token, this means that if one area of the body is restricted, then other areas must stretch/change to maintain balance and function. (see how in this picutre raising the arm creates wrinkles in the sweater!)
Fascia is not inert. It reacts to trauma and inflammation. It reacts to forces applied to it such as poor posture habits. Fascia shortens and solidifies. The body gradually loses its flexibility. Movements are not as fluid; joints don’t move as easily. The body becomes limited by tight restrictions – like wearing a sweater that is too small!
Because fascia is reactive, what shortens can be lengthened. How? That's for the next blog entry!
I've just done another course on integrated myofascial release. The course was entitled "myfoascial release for the temporomandibular joint (TMJ)". This is basically the joint that allows your jaw to open and close.
When doing this type of bodywork, you don't just work on the joint in question. In myofascial work, you look at the body as being interconnected, a restriction in one area will affect another area, so you work on the supporting structures. Structures that affect the jaw include the neck and the shoulders as well as muscles in the face.
Release work was done on the neck and shoulders. Then work was done on the muscles that control the jaw in particular the pterygoids. (Sounds like a type of dinosaur!) This is where you have to open your mouth! This is also where you make the amazing discovery that the body holds secret tensions of its own. These tensions are only revealed when you put specific pressure on the muscles. Wow! Who would believe that small muscles in the face can be so tender!
Fantastic feeling once the work was done!
So what happened for me? I discovered that working on the jaw changed how I felt when walking. My body moved more easily! A wonderfully feeling of free movement. Who would have thought that working on the jaw would release the hips and legs!
For a massage therapist, what are the main tissues of the body?
Well, I thought I knew: bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. As a bodyworker, we were taught that massage worked on and affected the muscles and their associated tendons. Muscles mattered. Now the buzz word is fascia.
So what is fascia? It is the body's connective tissue that covers and connects everything in the body. What does it look like? It is easiest to see as the delicate but strong white tissue that covers a leg of lamb.
Why is fascia creating a buzz? It has some amazing and important properties: fascia connects all parts of the body- it is your "body stocking". When you move one part of your body, there is a subtle pull/stretch in another part of the body. This also means that when there is a restriction in one part of the body, there are effects throughout the body.
Fascia is affected by habitually poor posture, trauma, and inflammation. Fascia reacts to these conditions by shortening and becoming more rigid. The body loses its flexibility. Movements become restricted and painful. Restricted fascia can exert a tensile strength of over 2000lbs so it can have quite an effect on the body.
What does this mean for you?