Fascia is a tough connective tissue that runs throughout the body in a three-dimensional web, from head-to-feet without interruption. It is made of 3 components: elastin, collagen and a poly-saccharide gel extracellular matrix, or (ECM). When healthy, fascia provides shock absorption and is the main messaging system of our bodies. Because it surrounds and connects everything in the body; muscles, nerves, blood vessels, organs and bones, down to the cellular level, this system profoundly influences all other structures and systems of the body.
Malfunction of the fascial system due to trauma, inflammation, our daily postural habits, repetitive stress, or surgery, etc., can create a binding down or tightening of the fascia. Have you ever felt a 'stuckness'? Like you don't have the range of motion you used to? This could be a restriction in your tissues. Sometimes our muscles get sort of 'glued' together. When this happens muscles can become weak, or nonfunctional. The body responds by asking surrounding muscles to do the work of the weak one. Compensation patterns develop which can throw us off balance and overwork the compensating muscles. Restrictions cause tissues to dehydrate, solidify, become brittle and easy to tear and can result in excessive pressure on pain-sensitive structures inside our bodies causing pain, discomfort and/or limited motion and function.
The ECM of fascia is the fluidity of our bodies so, if we are restricted long enough, it's possible the tissue has become solidified. When that happens our bodies have to work much harder to perform their basic functions and sometimes our cells aren't able to absorb nutrients, hydration, or oxygen. Even if we drink tons of water, our bodies may not be absorbing it. Another piece of this is the cells aren't able to excrete toxins and waste, so these may stay trapped inside, essentially poisoning the cells.
Since many of today's standardized tests like CAT scans, X-rays, electromyography, MRIs, etc, don't show fascial restrictions, many people suffering from pain and lack of motion may be having fascial problems, but, most go undiagnosed.
The makeup of the fascial system causes it to resist a suddenly applied force which explains why more aggressive forms of therapy only produce temporary results or aren't effective at all. John F. Barnes form of Myofascial Release therapy is a safe and highly effective manual therapy that involves applying a slow, gentle stretch into the fascial network. It can provide amazing results such as decreasing pain and increasing range of motion. It can help with adhesions, 'feeling stuck', back pain, jaw pain, headaches, fibromyalgia, sports injuries, repetitive stress injuries, frozen shoulder, pelvic pain, painful scars, birth injuries, bladder problems, post traumatic stress, carpal tunnel syndrome, whiplash, neck pain, chronic fatigue, and postural alignment issues like scoliosis, etc.
Gentle pressure is applied into an area of restriction, like sinking into soft clay. This is done without sliding on the skin, therefore no oil or lotion is used during these sessions. The compression must be sustained at least 90-120 seconds in order for the collagen component of the connective tissue to 'un-stick'. Then continued pressure for 5 minutes or more for each restriction allows the solidified ECM tissues to soften and begin re-hydrating, allowing for more freedom of movement. Waiting for this change to occur is key to producing a lasting result.
In preparing for a myofascial session, women should wear loose fitting shorts or Capri pants and a sport style bra top or tank top. Men should wear loose fitting elastic waist shorts or bathing trunks. We begin with a standing postural analysis which can provide information about your body that day, including where you may be restricted. Areas that feel hot, hard or tender can indicate fascial restrictions. We might begin working somewhere seemingly unrelated to your pain or injury, but because of the connections inside your body, this can help relieve your pain conditions.
Please do not use any lotion after showering the day of the session. The therapist's hands need to be able to connect or grip the skin, without sliding, in order to be effective. Quieting ourselves, tuning in and keeping the awareness in the body during a session and providing feedback on feelings or sensations can boost the effectiveness of the session. Because our bodies store past emotions and/or trauma in the connective tissue, sometimes there will be emotional releases during the session or in the days after. If you can ‘take your brakes off’ and open to letting some of the trapped energy out,, you may be able to progress in your healing process faster.
For more information visit www.myofascialrelease.com and read the articles written by John F. Barnes.
Kathryn Hollars is trained by John F. Barnes PT, who developed this therapy. She has attended Myofascial Release I x 2, Myofascial Release II, Unwinding, Cervical Thoracic, Fascial Pelvis, Healing Seminar x 2, and a Skill Enhancement Seminar.