Human curiosity with the body, its design and how it functions began many centuries ago. In the beginning our understanding of the body was based on the knowledge we gained by working with cadavers. This study lead us to look at the body from a bio-mechanical perspective, or an assembly of parts including the bones, muscles, organs, etc.
Today we have a very different understanding of the body and have expanded into a more holistic, integrated view where everything is connected and works together. We now understand the mind-body connection and are seeing how strongly stress, our thoughts and our beliefs have on our health and play a role in our physical discomfort and disease.
New discoveries are being made about the body everyday and further exploration into the fascial system and its role in body structure, design and physiology is revealing that fascia plays a critical role in our overall health and wellbeing.
Fascia was originally discovered by Dr. Andrew Taylor Still, the founder of Osteopathy in the late 19th century. Our awareness of fascia and our understanding of its key role in the body has expanded rapidly over the last century with many new pioneers like Ida Rolf, John Barnes and Tom Myers focusing their time, attention to develop effective techniques to manipulate the fascia to create better balance in the body.
The first Fascia Research Congress was held in 2007 and created a forum for experts working and researching in the field of fascia to share their discoveries and ideas. So our understanding of fascia and how it works will continue to unfold as more attention and research is shared.
We are really only at the tip of the iceberg in our understanding. But the more we learn about fascia, we more we are coming to understand that having a healthy fascial system is key to maintaining health on an anatomical, physiological and psychological level.
Fascia is a tough, densely woven connective tissue that surrounds every muscle, bone, organ, nerve, artery and vein in the body. Fascia is one giant sheet, a single uninterrupted web that encases, connects and interlaces everything in the entire body all the way down to the cellular level.
So fascia is involved and influences every action, activity and function within the body. Fascia falls into the broader category of connective tissue which is the most abundant tissue in the human body. Connective tissue also includes our blood, cartilage, fat tissue and bone.
In its normal healthy state, fascia is relaxed and wavy in configuration. It is free to stretch and move without restriction. It absorbs and distributes tensile forces and acts as a communication network for mechanical, energetic, chemical, experiential and informational exchange. It helps maintain homeostasis in the body at all levels.
There are four main levels at which fascia lives in the body, the superficial layer just underneath the skin, the deeper layer which wraps all our muscles, nerves, and blood vessels, the subserous fascia which wraps all our organs and the dura mater of craniosacral system.
Since fascia encases everything in the body, and in particular the musculature, it plays a very important role in providing structure to the body. Without the structural components and constant pull of the fascial system, the body would not be stable enough to accomplish our basic functions of sitting, standing and walking.
Physical trauma and ongoing stress create unhealthy changes in the fascial system. Adhesions form, impairing the ability of structures to glide over one another. Disturbances occur in the acid base balance of fluids triggering nerve cells sensitive to pain which results in sore muscles. When we tear or strain tissue, the body lays down more collagen fibres to stabilise the area which can result in less flexibility of the tissue and decreases in range of motion. Postural imbalances put our tissue under constant strain and can cause chronic muscle contractions or tonus changes. These changes result in a thickening or hardening of the connective tissue matrix. All of these elements have a cumulative effect if they are not treated and released from the body.
Other aspects that impact the natural healthy state of our fascial system include:
- Fatigue & exhaustion
- Imbalances in our endocrine system
- Ineffective or unbalanced postural habits
- Physical accidents or injuries
- Scarring & inflammation
- Emotional trauma
- Unhealthy emotional thoughts & patterns
- Systemic toxemia (lack of exercise and oxygen)
- Nutritional deficiencies & excesses
- Repetitive stress injuries
- Environmental agents & toxins
We also store emotions and active memories in the physical body in the fascia, so stress, our lack of self worth, fear and anxiety have an effect on our physical body and influence what symptoms and disease ultimately present for us. Our life experiences, and more importantly our emotional reaction and beliefs around these experiences, actually become the blueprint of our tissue.
So by understanding the basic physiological functions of fascia and connective tissue, we begin to understand how fascia impacts all the functions of the body. It influences the body’s fundamental ability to nourish and cleanse itself and fight off illness and disease. It is a very influential aspect of maintaining health and well being in the whole mind-body complex.
Myofascial Release Therapy
Myofascial Release Therapy is a safe and highly effective form of soft tissue hands-on manipulation that works with the fascial system to enhance movement and functionality in the body. When fascial restrictions are released space is created, restoring movement and glide-ability in the body.
The fascia that covers the muscular system is called myofascia. The myofascia covers every layer within the musculature, wrapping every muscle fibre, muscle bundle, the muscle and also every muscle group. It creates compartments allowing each muscle and muscle group to work independently and glide along side each other.
By encapsulating the musculature on all levels, the myofascia actually creates the muscle’s form. If the myofascia is tight and restricted, it creates a restricted environment for the muscle.
The technique is done without lotion or oil and the practitioner sinks into the client’s body with their hand, engages the fascia and then does a slow movement to stretches the fascia. The work is done superficial to deep opening up the layers just under the skin first and then working into the deeper muscle layers. The deep myofascia layers can be worked on the surface of the muscle, deep into the muscle tissue as well as on the layers between the muscles to separate the muscles as they often get stuck together.
The sensation to the client will be one of a slow, smooth and relaxing stroke. The client will feel a stretching or pulling sensation and often heat underneath the practitioner’s hand which can be a bit burning at times as fascial restrictions or adhesions are released. As restrictions are released the client will notice that the area is not as sensitive or painful and has more ease of movement. The ultimate sensation is the wave or ripple effect that can occur as the tissue unwinds.
It is not uncommon for clients to feel sensations in other parts of the body away from the area being worked. This is common with myofascial release work since we are tapping into the fascial web which is one continuous sheet in the body. Often when one area of the body is released it will have a ripple effect and release restrictions, tension and pulling patterns in other areas of the body.
This ripple effect also has an impact on our physiology. Much of our blood circulation, nerve conduction and lymphatic drainage happens in the superficial layer of fascia, that space beneath the skin and above the muscles and organs. When we create space in this area of the body we enhance the body’s fundamental ability to nourish and cleanse itself and maintain the effective function of our circulatory system, nervous system, lymphatic system and immune system functions.
Anytime we work with fascia we are working at all levels of functionality of the body. The work creates a chain reaction on all levels of the mind-body complex enhancing the efficiency and functioning of whole body systems, enhancing key functioning at the cellular level and facilitating the release of emotions and stored active memories.
The Benefits of Myofascial Release Therapy:
- Physical and Anatomical Changes:
- Decreases overall tension in the body
- Breaks up scar tissue
- Reduces fascial restrictions
- Decreases pain
- Increases range of motion & mobility
- Helps the body realign itself
- Helps break old structural holding patterns
- Improves postural distortions
- Frees muscle from fascia
- Reestablishes pliability of fascia
- Lengthens chronically shortened muscles
- Resets muscle spindles & changes muscle memory
- Decreases fascia & muscular imbalances
- Relieves stress & compression on joints
- System and Physiological Changes:
- Decreases heart rate
- Reduces stress
- Increases circulation
- Stimulates parasympathetic nervous system
- Increases energy flow
- Enhances lymphatic drainage
- Enhances nerve conduction
- Creates space for more fluid exchange
- Allows rehydration of tissue
- Releases memory stored in the tissue
- Facilitates mind-body connection
- Promotes physical & emotional healing
Enhancing healthy functioning in the fascial systems can have a profound effect on a client on all levels. It can help client’s feel more whole, connected, balanced, grounded and enhances their overall sense of well being.
As a practitioner or movement instructor it is crucial to have an understanding of the fascial system and how it influences all aspects of a client’s well being. Join me on an exciting adventure in learning how to release the fascial layers and watch the body ‘unwind’ restoring balance, flexibility and movement.