What is Fascia and Why Is It Important?
Fascia is a tough connective tissue surrounding every cell from head to toe like a three dimensional spider web. It provides support and flexibility to all structures of the body. Modern medicine tends to look at muscles, bones and organs in isolation, generally ignoring the importance of the global system that connects it all together. Releasing restrictions in the fascia can be the missing link in resolving problematic cases of pain and dysfunction.
What is Myofascial Release?
Myofascial Release (Myo means muscle) is used to free up fascial restrictions throughout the body. Tight fascia can be released by applying sustained pressure into the fascial barrier or restriction, allowing elongation of the tissues and thus changing the tensegrity (balance of the system). A fascial barrier is a restriction in the connective tissue. Injury, trauma, and poor posture cause these fascial fibers to tighten, shorten, thicken and adhere. This fascial barrier puts abnormal pressure on nerves, muscles, blood vessels, bones, organs, and the brain, resulting in inefficient function of these structures. Pain, restriction of motion and structural misalignment are some of the consequences. As fascial barriers are released, the individual gains greater flexibility. This results in decreased pain enhanced daily functional abilities, refined athletic performance, increased ease of movement and improved structural balance and integrity.
How Does Myofascial Stretching Differ From Traditional Stretching?
There are four primary ways that Myofascial Stretching differs from traditional stretching. The first one involves the time element. All Myofascial Stretches must be held continuously for a minimum of 3 to 5 minutes before the fascia even begins to let go. When held longer, additional releases may occur. THE TIME ELEMENT IS CRITICAL. Holding the stretch 3 to 5 minutes or longer allows a release of not only the elastic and muscular components of the connective tissue, but the collagenous component(a fibrous protein found in connective tissue), as well. Traditional 30 second stretching only affects the elastic and muscular portions, providing temporary results.
The second way Myofascial Stretching differs from traditional passive stretching is the concept of active elongation. Active elongation is what allows one to engage the fascial barrier. For example, extend your arm out to the side with your wrist bent backwards. Feel the stretch. Now, in the same position, REACH, TELESCOPE, or ELONGATE your arm as if you are trying to make it longer. Feel how that engages the tissue along the entire length of your arm into your hand. The fascial barrier is the point at which you feel resistance to the stretch.
The third essential difference is the need to be consciously present throughout the process of Myofascial Stretching. It is exponentially more effective when you are able to focus on the tension in the tissue, direct your breath into the restriction, notice the resulting slack as the release takes place, elongate into the next barrier and wait for another release to occur. Regular practice of these techniques with conscious attention to what you are feeling and to your breath will increase body awareness, patience and intuition. This results in being more focused centered and grounded in all aspect of life.
The fourth distinction is that stretching and strengthening occurs simultaneously. During active elongation, muscle groups opposing the tight fascia have to contact in a sustained manner. This prolonged isometric contraction of muscles against the resistance of the fascial barrier strengthens, them, helping to maintain the elongated state of the tissue you have just released.
What does a Release Feel Like?
A release may feel like taffy lengthening, or butter melting. There may be a burning or ripping sensation, pulsing, tingling or release of heat. There may be an increase in tension followed by a sense of slack. The sensations often intensify as the release is occurring and then decrease or disappear when it is complete. You may feel the fascia connecting into other areas. This is your body talking to you. This “fascial voice’ lets you know there is a relationship between the restriction you are treating and the part of your body to which sensation is referred.
Some individuals feel the release right away; for others it takes a little longer. Tune in and allow yourself to be present. Over time, with practice, you will feel the fascia let go. Until you do, know that if you maintain the stretch at the fascial barrier for at least 90 to 120 seconds, a release will probably occur whether you feel it or not.