Myofascial Release: Bridging the Gap Between Chronic Pain, Unconscious Belief Systems, and Trauma
Part I: What is fascia and myofascial release?
I’ve been a massage therapist for almost eight years. For some of that time I felt as though I wasn’t truly accessing the root of most of my clients’ dis-ease. While they were experiencing some relief and my technique was celebrated, they returned time and time again for the next appointment saying the same thing: “I felt good for a while but after so many days or weeks my symptoms returned.” I was frustrated that it seemed I was only able to put a "bandaid" on their symptoms, they were tired of being in pain, and I knew I could do better for my clients. I knew deeply that there was more to their pain and tension than just localized symptoms and general stress.
As I committed to and continued my own personal work of reconnecting to myself and healing old wounds I realized the connection between the body, unconscious belief systems, emotions, and trauma was the most important thing I could bring to my clients awareness in their own process and begin to bridge a gap between their symptoms, old stories held in the body, and their consciousness. It was then that I was introduced to the John F. Barnes Myofascial Release Approach.
To understand myofascial release it’s important to firstly understand the fascial system itself. Modern medicine has largely ignored the largest living system in the body yet recent research has shown that fascia may actually play an important role in health prevention as well as the relief of chronic pain and tension. Fascia is incredibly tough connective tissue that forms a three-dimensional web throughout the body. It literally connects your head to your foot without interruption. It makes up all of your tissue, organs, muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons, and every cell in your body. It is so continuous and connected that, just like that of a spider web, restrictions or pressure to the fascia in one are can have an adverse affect on the rest of the structure. Everything truly is connected.
Not only does fascia weave itself through your entire structure but it also houses the fluids and structures integral to our survival: blood vessels, the nervous system, ground substance and lymph. Ground substance keeps your tissue hydrated and determines the pliability of your tissue and can exist in a gel or sol state depending on the health of the tissue (this is why you will always hear me talk about water in-take at every appointment). When restrictions occur our body cannot function optimally and puts pressure on these important structures and systems creating pain, inflammation, and tension. I believe that these restriction can even create blocks that prevent our consciousness from freely flowing, actively creating a disconnect between the mind and body (more on that in part two of this blog series!).
A restriction places 2,000 pounds of pressure per square inch on these blood vessels, nerves, lymph, organs, bones, and muscles and surprisingly these restrictions do not show up in any standard testing. Xray and MRI machines are not picking these up; no wonder so many people continue to suffer despite continuing to seek out therapies that are only addressing symptoms, not the person as a whole.
1. Physical Trauma
Physical trauma to the body such as falling off of your bike, breaking your arm, or getting in a car accident and incurring whiplash are examples of ways your tissue can become restricted. Inflammation dehydrates the tissue causing it to become dense and tight. Often as the body recruits collagen to repair damaged tissue, restrictions are formed in the healing process.
The inflammatory process actually dehydrates the tissue causing it to become scarred and dense.
3. Poor Posture
Sometimes poor posture can be caused by restrictions but when it is the other way around, repetitive activities of daily living accumulating over time create restrictions and shorten muscles and tissue.
4. Surgical Scarring
Inflammation from damage to the tissue paired with scarring of the tissue creates obvious restrictions.
5. Emotional Stressors/Trauma
The body stores emotional trauma and stress in the tissue which often causes unconscious armoring and hardening of the tissue. More about this in part two of this blog series!
The purpose of myofascial release is to address these restrictions in order to restore function to your body. While it is a hands-on modality, it is much different than typical massage therapy. There is no emollient (lotion or oil) and rather than gliding across the superficial layers of the skin, muscles, and tissue, the practitioner holds sustained pressure in your tissue in order to slowly release restrictions in the body’s fascial system layer by layer. It is a therapy that works WITH your body and its innate wisdom to get to the root of your chronic pain and tension. Your body already knows what it needs and if you can be quiet and listen it will tell you.
Jenny Bork is a licensed massage therapist at Remembered Practice in Grand Rapids, MI. She specializes in chronic pain and tension management through mind body integration using massage therapy, myofascial release, and holistic counseling. She is currently accepting new clients.