What is Fascia & Why Should You Care?
In my training to become a certified massage therapist and even before that when I attended college, I had to take several biology and anatomy classes. I've been tested on the origin and insertion of muscles, the function of all the organ systems, how to identify skin conditions...but not once during that time was I educated on the importance of the fascia within our body. Chances are this is true of most healthcare professionals you've come into contact with which is very unfortunate because they are missing a huge piece of the puzzle when it comes to resolving chronic pain and dysfunction.
The fascia is the connective tissue that essentially holds our body together. If you've ever prepared a chicken breast you've seen the thin layer of tissue that covers the meat. That is fascia and we have this tissue all throughout our bodies. It is one continuous, three dimensional web of tissue that surrounds every single structure within our bodies; every muscle, every bundle of muscle fibers, every individual fiber and every cell is completely covered by fascia. This is also true for every organ, nerve, and blood vessel.
The significance of this is that the fascia is where the tendency to brace comes from. When we talk about "holding our tension" we don't actually hold it in our muscles, which is why we go get a massage and it might feel good in the moment and we might even feel some relief for a few days, but then our pain just comes right back. What is described as "holding our tension" is actually the fascia responding to a stressor or a trauma to the body. This could be anything from emotional stress to a car accident to a birthing injury to a surgery you had twenty years ago. Whatever it is, the fascia's job is to protect the body by going into the "freeze response" to stress, causing the ground substance of the fascia to dehydrate which will then potentially put up to 2,000 pounds of force per square inch on muscles, bones, nerves etc.
Yes. 2,000 pounds. Per square inch.
Imagine you get rear ended, your head snaps forward and you have a whiplash injury and the fascia braces and won't let go. If it feels like a horse is sitting on your shoulders, locking up your neck and pulling down on your skull... there might as well be one.
And the most unfortunate thing about this scenario is that fascial restrictions do not show up on an x-ray, an MRI, or any of the other tests that doctors use and so when all those tests come back normal, they say they can do nothing else but prescribe medication. But that isn't fixing the problem, is it? It's just masking it for 6-8 hours at a time.
The John Barnes Approach to Myofascial Release has helped thousands of people free themselves from the fascial restrictions within their bodies. These restrictions are usually given labels like plantar fasciitis, fibromyalgia, TMJ, migraines, or even high blood pressure. But all of these diagnoses are ultimately just describing symptoms. The goal of myofascial release therapy is to find the cause of these symptoms, identify where the fascia has become restricted, and release it, taking the intense pressure off of the body and freeing it from pain and dysfunction.
The John Barnes Approach to Myofascial Release uses gentle, sustained pressure to engage the barrier within the fascia, "unkinking the hose" and allowing the tissue to become hydrated, soft and fluid again. I never force or else the tissue will brace against me even more and every release is held for a minimum of five minutes giving the fascia time to fully let go.
I've studied extensively under John F. Barnes, PT and have received treatment from him as well as many other excellent therapists for my own chronic pain and pelvic alignment issues and I can tell you from personal experience that myofascial release works! I have been practicing myself for four years and the last two years have been here in San Diego where I have treated numerous different diagnoses including chronic fatigue syndrome, TMJ, scoliosis, pelvic pain, sciatica, and scar tissue from surgery. If you are in pain, lacking range of motion, recovering from an injury or surgery or trying to avoid surgery altogether, I encourage you to consider trying myofascial release.
"The worst that can happen is nothing." - John F. Barnes