This is a wonderful and informative article by a myofascial release physical therapist colleauge, Laura Probert, PT.
Here’s a summary if it’s just too long:
Hard body = unhealthy body
Healthy body = one that is able to move easily and freely.
Keeping a healthy body means maintenance – one of cardiovascular fitness, strength, flexibility, and myofascial mobility.
Fascia is a big deal… “Fascia and its intracellular matrix form a system inside of you that’s like one big, three dimensional web of life. It can hold the physical restrictions I’ve mentioned as well as mental or emotional energy from old trauma.”
Self – myofascial release requires the following three things:
“Stay awake” – feel what the stretch feels like!
“Breathe” – 90% of the stretch is breathing and relaxing
“Hold” – 3-5 minutes
But really… check out the article link! Fabulous work Laura!
Myofasical release / mobility is the trend to be doing after workouts and the gym. You see people rolling all over balls and foam rollers everywhere now. We also hear a lot about fascia and why we should care, even in the New York Times.
Yet what if fascia is more complex than is being described?
Fascia is commonly described as the thin filmy layer that you peel off a chicken breast. But could it be more? I challenge you to think of it as a more abstract concept.
Fascia is the spider web and glue that holds your cells together. If we removed all the cells in your body, you would still be sitting here reading this article in the exact same structure you are sitting in now.
The role of fascia is to provide the fluid and structure that allows the cells to glide past each other easily and effectively. This transmits a muscle contraction through space, coordinating the structural force through multiple muscles. For example, to stand up from a chair requires coordination and distribution of forces through the whole body.
Remember these tensegrity balls from elementary school? The ones where you pull on one side and the whole structure moves? That is the role of fascia in the body, distribute the force like shock absorbers and coordinate the movement together.
I bet you are now asking, why does this matter to me?
Well, trauma, even the littlest of trauma call microtrauma, can make your fascia become cement. Yes, you read that right, cement. The fascia looses its fluid-like nature and becomes hard. You have any tight and tender areas, trigger points in your body? That is where fascia that has become cement.
When fascia becomes cement, it becomes very strong and powerful, not allowing motion to occur. It may be crushing pain-sensitive structures such as nerves beneath it. Or it’s just a low level discomfort and lack of easy motion on your body. That’s fascial restrictions at their finest, doing what they do best… holding on tight… guarding the body from what it believes to be a threat, that further injury is just a moment away.
Hmm – ok, so now you want to know what to do about it… first thing that comes to your mind may be:
“Grab the foam roller!”
“I’ll just stretch it out!”
“Let me dig my hand into that pain!”
But what if we didn’t have to force our bodies to let go?
Research shows that the ideal pressure to change the fascia in manual therapy for permanent relief is go to the restriction at 3% sheer for a 5 minute hold (1). What?!? Sheer is a force, either through direct pressure or elongation / stretching. So…
When we stretch or use a firm yet soft ball, we only need to go to the first restricted barrier and wait. As that barrier softens, sink into the next one, and the next one for 5 minutes without letting up pressure. If you let up pressure, this starts the whole 5 minutes over again. Yes, this requires us to slow down and feel into our body, because how will we know if the barrier was there in the first place and let go if our attention wanders?
This also means that we don’t want to be forcing through the tissue, because that is way harder than 3% force. If your body is tensing up, guarding, and unable to soften around the ball, then it’s too hard. This also goes for a foam roller or stretching. We DO NOT need to be in excruciating pain to change the fascia!
Also, remember how fascia is the spider web and glue that holds our cells together? So when you use a ball or do a stretch for minimum 5 minute hold, you are impacting more than just the muscle you think you are addressing. You are affecting the ENTIRE system through the WHOLE body. How cool is that?
My teacher, John F. Barnes, PT is the original founder of myofascial release and has been teaching this form of myofascial release for over 40 years. He founded this technique due to his own incurable pain and now the research is catching up!
Treat your body with gentleness and your body will respond by softening, decreasing your discomfort and/or pain, and allowing optimal movement to do whatever your mind dreams of next.
Snowboarding / skiing with friends this past weekend brought a beautiful realization – it’s the closest feeling to flying with my feet on the ground. But what if you felt you could fly every day?!? Living your dream is to spread those wings and fly. Enjoy your flight!