Of the Fascial Release Course I attended, probably one of the most important things I brought home was reiterating the importance of stretching the fascial tissue to it’s stretch barrier and holding it until it lets go. That sometimes the stretch may have to be held for 3-5 minutes. When we complete the fascial release, we want it to stay there. Very often, the question I get from patients is, how do we get it to stay there so it doesn’t bounce back. I can give stretches to do at home to maintain our progress but it’s my job to release the specific fascial adhesions so that the home stretches are effective. To fully understand what fascia is, and what we are working with, we look at what makes up fascia.
Fascia in the body is described as: Fascia is a specialized system of the body that has an appearance similar to a spider’s web or a sweater. Fascia is very densely woven, covering and interpenetrating every muscle, bone, nerve, artery and vein, as well as, all of our internal organs including the heart, lungs, brain and spinal cord. The most interesting aspect of the fascial system is that it is not just a system of separate coverings. It is actually one continuous structure that exists from head to toe without interruption. In this way you can begin to see that each part of the entire body is connected to every other part by the fascia, like the yarn in a sweater.Fascia plays an important role in the support and function of our bodies, since it surrounds and attaches to all structures. In the normal healthy state, the fascia is relaxed and wavy in configuration. It has the ability to stretch and move without restriction. When one experiences physical trauma, emotional trauma, scarring, or inflammation, however, the fascia loses its pliability. It becomes tight, restricted, and a source of tension to the rest of the body. Trauma, such as a fall, car accident, whiplash, surgery or just habitual poor posture and repetitive stress injuries has cumulative effects on the body. The changes trauma causes in the fascial system influences comfort and function of our body. Fascial restrictions can exert excessive pressure causing all kinds of symptoms producing pain, headaches or restriction of motion. Fascial restrictions affect our flexibility and stability, and are a determining factor in our ability to withstand stress and perform daily activities.
Fascia is comprised mainly of three things: Elastic fibers, Collagen fibers and Ground Substance that surrounds the Elastic and Collagen fibers. With fascial adhesions, it’s the collagen and elastic fibers that become bound to each other, greatly affecting the elasticity of the tissue, affection local movement, where ever that tissue is in the body, as well as movement and function of other areas of the body, as the fascial system is continuous throughout the entire body.
As an example, having a fascial restriction in the low back is like wearing a wet suit, leaning back, and having glue poured on the wet suit at your low back, and letting the glue dry. The glue will continue to pull you back and somewhere else in the body will have to compensate for that pull so your are balanced. It’s the systemic response to a local fascial adhesion.
Someone once said that releasing Fascia is like cooking stewing beef cubes. You can do it quickly and throw it into a pan on high (hard stretch for short periods) and it will cook but it will still be really tough or you can slow cook it at a lower temperature for a longer period of time and get a much better result (more pliable, elastic tissue as a result).
So as I locate a fascial adhesion, I apply a stretch only to the barrier. I could push harder, but I just go to the barrier and wait. During the stretch heat will be created that will warm the tissue, allowing the collagen fibers to stretch. You can feel the tissue slowly softening and elongating over the 3-5 minutes. But you just wait for the tissue to naturally lengthen. By doing this, the tissue will reform under the heat, same as plastic does under heat, and as you let go gently, the tissue will now remain in that lengthened position. Now the patient can go home with specific stretching to maintain that lengthened tissue with any other exercises given for that specific condition that they’ve come in for.
It’s taken some trust and open mindedness to adopt this treatment philosophy but I’m so grateful that I did as it has dramatically helped patients with mobility, strength, stability and reduced pain as a result.