What is fascia?
Fascia is a tough connective tissue which spreads throughout the body in a three-dimensional web – much like a spider web. It extends from head to foot without interruption. Fascia supports, protects, envelops and becomes part of the muscles, bones, nerves, organs and blood vessels, from the largest structures right down to the cellular level. When all is well, the body functions harmoniously. When injuries occur, however, the fascia has the ability to reorganise along the lines of tension imposed on the body. Trauma, posture or inflammation can create a binding down of the fascia resulting in excessive pressure on nerves, muscles, blood vessels, osseous structure and/or organs causing pain or malfunction throughout the body.
This enormous pressure, approximately 2,000 pounds per square inch, can produce the symptoms of pain, headaches, fibromyalgia and limitations of motion. Since many of the standard tests such as x-rays or scans do not show the fascial restrictions, it is thought that an extremely high percentage of people suffering with pain and/or lack of motion may be having fascial problems but most go undiagnosed.
What is Myofascial Release?
The John F. Barnes “Myofascial Release Approach” consists of the gentle application of sustained pressure into the fascial restrictions.
Myofascial Structural Release
Structural release involves applying gentle, sustained pressure into areas of tightness, restriction or pain and waiting for your body to release. Never forceful, pressures are applied to gently reach the barrier of the tissue restriction. At first, you will feel an elastic or springy give and this is fool’s gold. It feels like a release. It feels like a bit of a change. However, the tissue will just spring back once the pressure is disengaged. This “fool’s gold” is the elastic component of the tissue giving way. However, the only way to experience a lasting change in the tissue is to wait. Additional time spent holding the pressure (beyond 5 minutes for each restriction) enables your connective tissue to fully ‘melt’ and lengthen. Science is telling us that there is yet another benefit to waiting long enough to allow for a phase change in the tissue. Beyond 5 minutes, your body will begin producing interleukin, which is a natural anti-inflammatory! This response is only elicited when pressure is sustained and uninterrupted – no rubbing, poking, manipulation or bouncing!
Myofascial Release helps to remove the straight-jacket of pressure caused by restricted fascia, eliminating symptoms such as stiffness, pain, headaches, spasm and fibromyalgia, as well as restoring range of motion. It seems that the fascia tends to lose its fluidity when it goes through trauma or an inflammatory response; in other words it tends to solidify. This treatment facilitates the fascia to transform as it undergoes its solid to gel reorganisation during myofascial release. This rehydration also allows for an elongation of the myofascial system, relieving the pressure on pain sensitive structures for alleviation of the symptoms of pain, headaches and restoration of motion.
It is critical to note that Structural Myofascial Release can only be performed on dry skin. Using oils or creams during treatment means the therapist is sliding on your skin and therefore unable to properly sustain pressures that release and melt restrictions in your body.
Myofascial Unwinding – untangling knots!
Everyone has an innate ability to self-correct tension, postural imbalances and tissue restrictions through
natural, intuitive movement! When you first wake up in the morning and have that urge to yawn and roll and stretch a bit before hopping out of bed, you are experiencing a snippet of your body’s self-correction mechanism. Similarly, when you have been sitting at the computer for too long and feel the urge to reach your arms up over your head and arch your upper back over the back of the chair getting a nice stretch through your arms, chest and shoulders, you are unwinding. With the help of a therapist to support your body and minimise the effect of gravity, your body can stretch and move for more than a quick snippet which takes the unwinding to a deeper level to thoroughly clear your body of stress, holding patterns and tension!
You will need to wear appropriate clothing to each Myofascial Release Treatment session. The Physio Therapist performing the treatment will need as much access to your skin as possible, as the treatment involves stretching out your body. It is easier to do this directly on the skin, rather than through baggy layers of clothing. During each treatment, women need to wear shorts and a sports bra or regular bra and men need to wear gym shorts. Make sure that you have these items with you so that you can change into them before your treatment begins. After your first treatment, you might feel your pain levels increase slightly. You may also be sore or fatigued, and might feel your thirst levels increase.
Make sure to drink plenty of water after your treatments, as this helps flush toxins out of your system and rehydrate your fascia. You might need a few additional hours of sleep in order to give your body the time that it needs to rest and heal. It is normal to feel some pain or soreness for 24-48 hours after a Myofascial Release session, although some people feel sore for a bit longer. It is common for your symptoms to increase as your therapy begins to progress. This is referred to as “the healing crisis” by Physiotherapists, and is completely normal. In fact, you might feel worse before you begin to feel better. Your fascial system is built like an onion, and is full of layers. Each layer needs to be released before the pain finally goes away. This is why you’ll need more than one treatment, and why your pain might intensify before you feel any improvement.
After treatment it is important to drink plenty of water to help the fascia transform from solid to gel.
Copyright John F. Barnes, Myofascial Release