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Myofascial Release: Unraveling the Invisible

Updated: Feb 24, 2021

While a tight, painful neck or an annoying backache can easily be chalked up to tired muscles and stiff joints, these types of symptoms are often caused by another part of us which rarely gets airplay: fascia. In spite of the major role this little-known network of connective tissue plays in literally every function of our bodies, it hadn’t received much mainstream attention until fairly recently.

Our bonafide birthday suits

Although we usually think of our “birthday suit” as our naked skin, our real birthday suits are our fascia, a thin casing that surrounds all our organs and holds them in place, along with our blood vessels, bones, nerve fibers, and muscles. Think of fascia as an exoskeleton we wear which controls the way we move—inside and out. Similar to the 12 energetic meridians which form the basis for traditional Chinese medicine, our bodies have which pull specific routes throughout the body. These lines are implicated in every movement our bodies perform, including those of internal organs like the diaphragm, which we need to keep breathing.

An example of how dysfunction happens: one of the 12 lines, the superficial back line (SBL), is considered the original primary curve of our bodies. When we’re still very young and start learning to raise our necks, we develop secondary curves too, which help us achieve balance. But when we sit with our heads forward for too long due to the needs of our daily lives, our bodies have to compensate elsewhere, which in turn creates misaligned curves and muscle imbalances—followed by nerve pain, headaches, stiff joints, tight muscles, tingling, temperature sensitivities, trouble breathing, the list is long.

A missing piece of the puzzle

Fact: fascia boasts 6-10 times more sensory nerve endings than muscle, making it spectacularly sensitive. Maybe that’s why chronic pain often lives there, even though it will never show up in X-rays, myelograms, CAT scans, or electromyography. Not surprising, considering it wasn’t so long ago that doctors dissecting cadavers would discard fascia as mere “packing material.”

Thankfully, this is where myofascial release therapy comes in.

What is myofascial release?

When our connective tissue gets too tight, our fascia becomes skewed or slanted (as seen in cellulite) or hardened (as seen in knots and adhesions). This can hinder healthy circulation and an optimal posture. The good news: our fascia is adaptive, meaning they mold depending on the pressure we place on them.

Myofascial release (MFR) comes in many forms, including rolling, yoga therapy, and massage therapy, all of which are geared at helping loosen your fascia, reset your movement patterns, and eliminate pain. MFR is a safe and highly effective hands-on technique that involves applying gentle but sustained pressure to tissue restrictions. Pressure is applied slowly but firmly to help your fascia lengthen and relax over time. The intent is always to search for and treat the primary area of restriction with the knowledge that because fascia is all connected, treatment in one area will always affect another. It’s a process of unraveling.

Since every single muscle is wrapped in fascia and every bundle of fascia is connected to another bundle, it follows that everything is connected to everything else. Bottom line: getting in touch with the stories your body is telling you through your fascia is a great place to begin undoing that which no longer serves you.

I offer a bi-weekly class to learn self-myofascial release, sign-up online to experience this beneficial practice.

Because we all deserve free movement!

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