The One Rule of Effective Fascial Release, And Why Massage Doesn’t ‘Release’ Fascia

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Have you ever wondered why massage therapy doesn’t “release” fascia? I mean…those deep tissue massages hurt! They must be doing something, right?

I want to let you in on a little secret that will help you understand fascia and how to create changes within that soft tissue system that last.

First…let’s dive into a mini crash course on fascia, just in case you’re still unsure exactly what this stuff is.

What is fascia?

Fascia is a collagen-like substance that permeates the entire human body. Every nerve ending is coated in a piece of fascia, as is every muscle fibril and fiber, every muscle bundle and group, and all of this turns into tendon and ligament, which attach to our joints. Even our bones and organs are wrapped in fascia! We have more of this substance in our body than anything else.

While the picture to the right is a great example of how it wraps the muscle fibers, what that image doesn’t show is all the billions of nerves it wraps that travel within the soft tissue system, which means this stuff isn’t linear – it’s a vast and criss-crossing matrix.

Fascia is supposed to be elastic, flexible, STRONG and resilient. Since it wraps literally everything in the body that supports LIFE, I have come to believe it is meant to be almost bulletproof; like the Kevlar that protects our nerves, muscle fibers, bones and organs. (It’s much, much more than this, but this’ll do for today’s crash course).

If fascia were easily change-able we’d be in BIG trouble! Every time we bump into anything we’d damage ourselves. Heck, even sitting down would cause a re-molding of the fascia in our hips and butts if fascia were that quick to change.

Thus, it is my conclusion that fascia will not change easily due to ANY outside force attempting to change it (if it did, it would betray one of its primary roles in our evolution!)

This includes most methods of massage therapy as well as all those fancy new gadgets and gizmos one the market right now that claim to melt or release your fascia if you smash and blast it hard enough.

To truly change the fascial system, we have to ask the fascia to change itself.

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How to Choose a Body Worker for Pain Relief (Opinion)

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So you’re in pain or dealing with an injury and you want the help of someone in the bodywork field to sort you out. How do you choose the BEST person for you?

This can be a daunting decision, with thousands of choices that often looks similar on paper (or the web).

If you’re NOT in pain, then my opinion is simple: see whoever you want! Do what feels good. See the person you like the most.

When you’re in pain, however, there are a few critical distinctions to make and important points to consider if you want help actually getting out of pain AND finding the root cause so it doesn’t come back.

How to choose a body worker for pain relief:

First of all, here are some very basic things to consider:

  • MANY (I would say the majority of) manual therapists – massage therapists and other body worker practitioners – are not necessarily trained to help people eliminate pain.
  • Having said that, there certainly ARE capable manual therapists and body work practitioners out there who have been trained to relieve pain at its source, and this post is designed to help you find THOSE people and learn how to differentiate between your average massage therapist or someone you would go to for relaxation vs. someone who can help you get and STAY out of pain.

First off, let’s weed out the therapists who probably CAN’T help you:

Before I list these, I want to be clear I’m not knocking these therapists or discounting their work – I think there’s room for ALL of us and room for every modality. I just think it’s important for all of us (clients and practitioners alike) to know who we are seeing and WHY, with an honest look at scope of practice. I was a massage therapist for a year (8 long years ago!) and in that time I never helped my clients eliminate their pain for good. I wasn’t trained to do that and I went through a very comprehensive training that included myofascial massage, orthorpedic massage as well as the typical deep tissue, swedish etc.

Here are the modalities and people I would NOT consider seeing if you are looking for pain relief:

  • Your corner massage chain or generic massage therapist.
  • This includes therapists whose work consists mostly of Swedish, deep tissue or very general whole body massage.

Here are the practitioners and modalities you might consider, CAREFULLY: (and use my interview questions to make a wise decision here!)

  • Massage therapists or massage businesses who list “sports massage” or something like this as an option (often an “upgrade” that you pay extra for). A lot of the time these therapists are allowed to say they practice “sports massage” when they had a few hours of training for “athletes” while they were in massage school. This does NOT mean (in my opinion) that they know how to find the root cause of pain. MAYBE THEY DO. Some people have had extra training that gives them the authority to make this claim with confidence. This is where I want to encourage you to interview people, because you never really know from the average website bio (see below for questions to ask and what to look for when interviewing practitioners).
  • Manual therapists who say they do “myofascial massage.” Like I said above, I was trained in myofascial massage but NONE of that training included teaching us how to find the ROOT cause of pain. Generally speaking, THIS IS SIMPLY A MASSAGE MODALITY or technique. It does NOT mean this person will be able to release your fascia (it takes a very skilled person to do this with their hands. They absolutely ARE out there and if you can find one of these that’s AWESOME!)
  • All other modalities that do not (necessarily) include training to find the root cause of pain, from energy work to deep body work – reiki, craniosacral therapy, shiatsu, trigger point therapy, thai massage, reflexology etc. I like to speak from personal experience and personally, I haven’t directly experienced eliminating physical pain with any energy technique. Maybe I’m not open minded enough. That said, I have friends who have and I believe them. The mind is extremely powerful! If you believe in energy work and believe your practitioner is saving your ass, then they probably will! I definitely believe in energy being stored in the body, as well as emotions, trauma etc. My personal preference is to access that energy in a very physical way. So – if energy work is your jam, carry on! As for some of the other ones I listed above, it’s for the same reasons as the above two that I list these: most of the time the training for these modalities does not include how to find the root cause of pain. This doesn’t mean there aren’t some really skilled practitioners out there who specialize in shiatsu, Thai massage or trigger point therapy that can help eliminate pain. So once again – please refer to the interview questions to help you determine if one of these practitioners is right for you.
  • ALL other body work modalities fall into this category of being potentially supportive (if you interview them and like their answers): Alexander technique, Feldenkrais, Bowen, chiropractic, Trager and Rolfing, or Structural Integration, ART, Mashing, Rossiter etc (I’m sure there are many more).
  • Just because someone was trained in something potentially helpful does NOT mean they are GOOD! Your job is to find out if they are, and their job is to make sure you know it when you call or walk into their office.

Questions to ask when interviewing a practitioner:

The very FIRST thing I urge you to ask any professional before you see them is

Question #1:

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