Understanding Fascia and Myofascial Release
Myofascial release is the most effective bodywork therapy I have tried. Yet I’ve never been able to describe it very well. In this guest post, my massage therapist Jenny Eggers explains what fascia is and how myofascial release works.
Demystifying Myofascial Release
By Jenny Eggers, Licensed Massage Practitioner
Perhaps you have heard of myofascial release and you’re caught wondering what is this and what exactly fascia is?
Well I am sure every one of you has taken the step forward onto the step you thought was there and bam! Shock waves transpire up into your leg, your hips, all the way up into your neck. Those waves travel along what some structural integrationists call your fascial net. This fascial net serves as a protective barrier from the outside world against pathogens and transmits immediate feedback to your brain about your surroundings.
Fascia keeps us together in recognizable form. It is a tough, elastic connective tissue made from collagen, elastin and reticulin. It is a gelatinous like substance that provides tension and compression around tissue that would otherwise sag to the floor like a pair of socks that have lost their elasticity. Imagine a grapefruit and the septum the pith forms around and between the meat of the fruit. Just below the skin we have a layer of fascia encasing our body and as we move into deeper structures it weaves in and out of organic tissue encasing individual muscle fibers and organs down to the cellular level.
Other forms of fascia are bones, blood and ligaments to name a few. Bones are designed to reflect and change to accommodate the individual characteristics of each person. The needs of an ultra-marathoner are different in comparison to the needs of a swimmer or an office-worker.
Your body measures the forces applied to the bone and responds accordingly by building or tearing down bone mass. As you apply more forces to your bone your body responds by building up more bone mass. This can be to your disadvantage if there is some sort of imbalance as we see in the cases of bone spurs. On the other hand, if you do not apply force to your bones your body responds by tearing it down.
Fascia, providing us with structure and ease with mobility also causes dis-ease with mobility after years of misuse and/or injury. After trauma or injury it can shrink and harden around and within your body limiting your range of motion or causing pain because your support structure has been altered. What about that pain you have in your shoulder? Possibly caused from the numerous times you sprained your ankle playing kick-ball many years ago.
Once injured your body responds with compensatory patterns. To allow healing, other muscles take over the job of the injured muscles. These patterns are beneficial at the time but if not addressed they become entrapments and your fascia responds accordingly. The fascia is shortened or elongated where once it was in a neutral position and after years of compensation you now have chronic pain with seemingly no cause or relief.
This is where myofascial release comes in to play.
Myofascial release involves very little lubrication and specific force. Applying a sustained dynamic force the practitioner will catch the fascia beneath their fingers and either with your help or without will slowly stretch the fascia in various directions. This is where the burn that some of you might be familiar with in a bodywork session comes in. Slowly stretching the fascia will alter the collagen and soften the viscosity causing greater ease in movement and less pain in your daily existence.
How do you know if myofascial release is right for you?
Ask yourself these questions: Do I have chronic pain? Have I tried numerous remedies to no lasting avail? Do I feel stiff and clumsy? Do I perform the same actions day in and day out? Do I exercise regularly and want greater muscle health? Have I been in a lot of accidents or had my fair share of injury? If you answered yes then perhaps this technique is right for you.
One thing to keep in mind about fascia. . . .
With any deep bodywork there is a potential to release some emotions or memories stored in the tissue. Above I wrote that fascia forms a protective barrier against pathogens. The body doesn’t necessarily have a discriminating eye for what is a cellular pathogen and what is an emotional pathogen.
If one has a lot of emotional stress surrounding them the body will respond in kind. Slumping of the shoulders at one time may have been a protective measure. Maybe another time it is from a car seat that is ill fit. Continuous slumping of the shoulders can become a chronic fascial issue that brings a lot of discomfort. Getting your shoulders released may also release the memory of that emotional pathogen from so long ago.
After a session of myofascial work it is important to honor the emotions you are experiencing. Napping, journaling, counseling, exercising are all very healthy ways to explore and integrate the movement that just occurred in your fascial net.
Jenny specializes in therapeutic massage, injury treatment, deep tissue massage and, of course, myofascial release. If you’re looking for an excellent massage therapist in Seattle, contact her at patcheggers[at]yahoo[dot]com. She’s a delightful person with a true talent for bodywork. I can’t recommend her highly enough.