What is Fascia?
Fascia is a tough 3D connective tissue which spreads throughout the body in a three dimensional web from hand to foot without interruption. The fascia surrounds every muscle, bone, nerve, blood vessel and organ of the body, all the way down to a cellular level - without it all your insides would fall to the floor and your skin would resemble a saggy sack! It is very important stuff!
I am looking for Myofascial Release - is this the same thing?
YES! I have adapted the name to more accurately describe what I do. Fascia surrounds and infuses more than just muscle tissue, so the term 'Myo-fascial' which literally means 'Muscle (Myo) Fascial' just doesn't feel like it cuts it anymore! The more we understand about this amazing connective tissue, the more we realise that it has been completely underrated in its function until more recently!
What is Fascial Restriction and Why Does it Cause Pain?
A restriction in the fascia is a malfunction of the fascial system due to trauma, posture, or inflammation that can create a binding down of the fascia, resulting in abnormal pressure on nerves, muscles, tendons, bones, organs and so on. This enormous pressure acts like a straight jacket on muscles, nerves, blood vessels and bony structures producing the symptoms of pain, headaches, restriction of motion and disease. This can create pain or malfunction throughout the body, sometimes with bizarre side effects and seemingly unrelated symptoms.
As more detailed research is being carried out, it is believed that an extremely high percentage of people suffering with pain and/or lack of motion, may be having fascial problems. The majority of the research into fascia is being conducted on humans, but we can easily relay these findings to horses, dogs, or any mammal. It is certainly apparent in my Equine practice that horses suffer from very similar problems to humans, much of which is usually not considered, for example, headaches. Sadly most fascial problems are either misdiagnosed, or not diagnosed at all as it is very difficult to ‘see’ problems within the fascial system due to standard diagnostic testing, such as x-rays, MRI and CT scans not showing the fascia.
What is Fascial Release (or Myofascial Release)?
Myofascial Release (which is often referred to as MFR which people find easier!) is a technique that engages the fascia at the restriction which is then held under soft, but firm pressure, only moving with the tissue as it releases. MFR does not tear through tissue, but instead engages the fascia and follows its movement throughout the release; in effect, unwinding and untwisting the tissue which you can sometimes see very clearly as the body moves with the fascia. This release of fascia pressure in turn releases the muscles, nerves, and joints allowing them to move to their correct position. The body’s tissue is NEVER FORCED, so MFR can never injure – a therapist will simply be facilitating the release so the fascia can return to its healthy state.
The latest research tells us that a release of the important components of the fascia for long lasting change, does not truly begin until at least 5 minutes of the gentle sustained pressure, so during a treatment I may stay in one place for quite a long period of time - this is normal and very much depends on how the body is responding - it isn't completely unheard of for me to remain in one position for the entire treatment as there are so many changes going on within the fascial network, there has been no need to move and because the fascia is one continuous web, changes can be happening in other parts of the body as well! Each patient is different and will respond in different ways, so there is no set rule for how a body will respond, but we allow it to do whatever it needs to and try not to question it.
Can MFR really help me?
Of course! Everyone (human or horse), no matter how old, young, inactive or active, will have experienced some sort of tissue trauma at some point in their life – its called living! We have all perhaps slipped or fallen at some stage and of course anyone who is suffering from chronic pain, has had surgery, is stressed, tired, stiff and so on, will benefit from MFR as all of these things will have a direct effect on the fascia which needs to be restored back to health.
I also have a very keen interest in the emotional component of the fascial system. It is now widely accepted that the fascia stores emotional trauma as well as physical - again, we have all experienced some form of emotional trauma throughout our lives and each time this has been repressed it is held in the soft tissues in the body and can create physical holding patterns. Because of this, it is common for emotional responses (like laughing or crying, or perhaps yawning for a horse) during a treatment as we work through these restrictions. Just think about how your body braces itself in response to perhaps a near-miss in the car, for example, and how many times you may have experienced a very similar response to other frightening stimuli. The body tissue will respond well before our brain has had time to think it through - this is a very useful survival instinct of course, but if we are under chronic stress, or have a lot of experiences in our lives where we feel threatened this will inevitably have an impact on our physiology as well - "The Body Keeps the Score" as Bessel van der Kolk calls one of his well renowned books on traumatic experience.
The beauty of MFR is that the more the body releases, the overall healthier and better functioning it becomes and quality of life can be massively improved.