Myofascial Release for Dummies
So there’s a lot more talk in the fitness and wellness industries about myofascial release these days which I guess is a good thing in some ways but not so good in others. It seems like everyone who does body work claims to also do myofascial release and that’s not exactly accurate. There are also a bunch of other techniques that involve the use of scary implements that claim to “treat” the fascia but again, that’s not exactly accurate either. I’d like to take this opportunity to explain what exactly fascia is and its function in the body and dispel some myths about fascial work (or myofascial release).
Fascia is often described as connective tissue that surrounds muscles and organs in the body. While this description is true, it provides only a very basic idea of the function of this important tissue. Fascia is a three dimensional web of tiny tubes filled with a gel-like substance that surrounds and connects every cell in the body. That’s right, every cell! So it affects how all of our cells function, which means it also affects how all of our muscles, joints and organs function (or don’t function as the case may be.) Think of fascia as a fibre optic network that transmits information (energy) to all the systems of the body because that is essentially what it does through the fluid inside the tiny tubes.
Problems (illness, disease, pain, etc) arise when the fascia becomes tight and hard from inflammation. Fascia can put up to 2000 pounds per square inch of pressure on whatever it is surrounding, so it’s no surprise that so many people are living with chronic pain! Think about that - 2000 pounds on your lower back or your neck or your heart or lungs or brain. Even 100 pounds of pressure is an unbelievable amount and would cause a lot of problems. Tightness in the fascial system will also cause cells to stop functioning properly. What do you think happens when cells can’t work properly? They are forced to mutate and adapt to their environment. Guess which disease starts with cell mutation? That’s right – cancer! Guess which disease is caused by inflammation? That’s right, all of them!!! And what causes inflammation? Stress, certain foods, strenuous exercise, sugar, alcohol, certain drugs/medications, injuries and trauma (mental, emotional and physical). So it seems pretty obvious to me that an unhealthy or imbalanced lifestyle will result in an unhealthy fascial system and can lead to a lot of serious problems.
There a few ways to tell if your fascia is tight or restricted. The most obvious sign is that your soft tissue doesn’t feel soft. Now I’m talking about when you’re sitting or lying in a relaxed position. How do your muscles feel? How does your abdomen feel? Contrary to what we’ve been told for years and years, we don’t want our bodies to be tight, we need them to move freely and easily. You should be able to sink your hand into your belly easily with no resistance. Your muscles shouldn’t be hard unless you are contracting them. Think raw steak vs. beef jerky – if your body at rest feels more like beef jerky than raw steak, you’ve got fascial restriction. If you can’t access certain ranges of motion, it’s because of fascial restriction.
So what can you do about it? Well you can have an honest look at your life and see what areas need to change. Do you have a lot of stress in your life? Do you not move enough? Do you exercise too much? Do you eat real food or things from packages? Are you living the life you really want or just going through the motions and doing things because that’s what you were told you should want? Do you have an injury that has never been treated properly? These are just a handful of things to consider changing in order to begin to feel better. Of course you can seek outside help for any or all of these problems if you feel you need extra help. While I believe it’s possible to change so many things without help from others, it can be an overwhelming task and it’s easy to get sidetracked and lose momentum. Asking for help is not a bad thing and in fact, can be the most beneficial way to make lasting, effective changes. As a therapist, I treat myself on an almost daily basis but I also get treated by other therapists as much as I can because it is helpful to get someone else’s perspective, as well as a different approach to whatever problem I am dealing with. However, if you expect someone else to “fix” you, thinking you don’t have to do any of the work, then you are not going to get good or lasting results. Things will not change for long if you start seeing a therapist but don’t do anything else differently.
Now let’s talk about some myths of myofascial release treatment. There are a handful of schools that teach myofascial release – it’s also called Rolfing, structural integration, Graston Technique, Active Release Therapy, etc. The common theme among most of these types of fascial work is that they are fa