Summer is a great time to listen to your body, reconnect to what is important and ask yourself how you can best maintain physical health and good quality of life. Most of us will think of parks to hike in, lakes to swim in, gardens to dig in, beaches to lounge on, mountains to climb. For some of us, however, these activities also conjure apprehension, because we dread having to deal with chronic pain or unwelcome flare-ups.
For those of us with this fear, this is a great time of year to become intimately familiar with our fascia, along with the possibilities of myofascial release.
What exactly is fascia? Fascia is our connective tissue — a system of the body that runs through and between every cell of the body! It is a shock absorber and runs from head to toe without any interruption. It is the scaffolding that holds us in place.
Why haven’t we heard about fascia? One reason is that pioneer practitioners of mainstream Western medicine missed this critical part of the body because they focused on dissecting cadavers. The fascia system is solidified in a cadaver and has to be scraped away to study the individual organs and other parts of the body. But in the normal heathy living state, the fascia is well hydrated and can stretch and move without restriction. The first person to film this system was Dr. Jean-Claude Guimberteau, a plastic surgeon in France, who concluded that the fascia is a tensegral unit, in essence an ever-changing fractal, fluid-filled system.
Problems with the fascia occur as a result of accidents, injuries (including repetitive-motion injuries), emotional trauma, stress or surgeries. These traumas rapidly become cumulative, causing physical restrictions, inflammation, decreased mobility, pain and poor posture. Fascial restrictions do not show up on CT scans or MRIs, so many people who suffer from chronic pain may be misdiagnosed. We know something is off because of sensations of pain, and we take some ibuprofen, but at the same time, we can’t figure out how to effectively address this kind of pain.
How can we relieve fascial restrictions and pain? This is where myofascial release comes in as a possibility to consider for your health care this summer. Myofascial release is a hands-on bodywork/manual therapy that addresses restrictions in the fascia — the technique relieves pain, headaches, fibromyalgia, scars, sports injuries and many other conditions. It can also enhance sports performance! For people with minor restrictions, there are ways to self-treat using a small inflated ball or holding stretches for 5 minutes or more. Usually your therapist will teach you this after a few appointments to maintain your progress.
What drew me to this work was my own experience as a patient for several months. I had several injuries from past horse falls, a mountain-biking accident and car accidents, which left me with conditions such as hip bursitis and frozen shoulder, and pain that interrupted my sleep and ability to continue with the sports and outdoor activities I liked.
Accessing the profound benefits of myofascial release is a wise investment for your long-term health. Make sure you work with a well-trained myofascial therapist, ideally someone trained in the John Barnes Myofascial Release Approach.