Fascial Release Techniques

The Psoas – Our Body’s Insurance Policy Against Pelvic Instability & The Case for Leaving it ALONE

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Difficult to palpate, a challenging area to master as a manual therapist and dreaded by everyone getting worked on because of the horrible pain associated with it – in some ways “the psoas” is approached like the holy grail of the body: finding it can feel like a “quest” and while few are rewarded for their efforts many seem willing to die trying.

If you’ve jumped on the psoas-is-the-root-of-all-pain bandwagon, I have a few questions for you: if you’ve gone after the psoas attempting to release it – on your own, with a massage therapist, physical therapist or other method – are you better? Are you out of pain? If you’ve spent a lot of time trying to “release” this muscle, shouldn’t it be “loose” by now?

There’s been a LOT of hype about the psoas the last decade (or more). Is the hype justified? Is it really the most important muscle in the body and the biggest contributor to all of our pain?

I’ve instinctively felt for years that all this psoas hype is misplaced. I finally feel prepared to present my counter argument.

I’ve come to believe the iliopsoas are the most adaptive muscles in the human body, and our insurance policy against pelvic instability. This might make the iliopsoas two of the most important muscles in the body; however…in this scenario, if we are in pain then these muscles ARE LIKELY NOT THE PROBLEM, and if they appear “tight” they’re trying to HELP US. We’ve (unknowingly) taken out our insurance policy. Bolstering, blaming or otherwise focusing on the insurance policy that’s quickly running out because we haven’t fixed the root issue does nothing to heal the system that originally failed. If we heal the root issue our insurance policy can once again resume it’s role as critical back-up in case of system failure.

These are my theories and findings after 8 years in private practice and careful consideration of the science, anatomy, client stories and inner reasoning regarding this famous muscle group. I’m open to being wrong. I’m committed to keeping an open mind and learning alongside you, so please chime in with your thoughts.

Anatomy and function of the Iliopsoas:

Important distinctions: psoas major and iliacus are often lumped together (because they function synergistically) and are called the iliopsoas; psoas major and minor make up the psoas group; most of the hype talks about the psoas but either neglects iliacus, OR they use the word psoas when they really mean iliopsoas.

I’ll attempt to stick to these distinctions in this article.

Functions of the iliopsoas:

The iliopsoas flexes the femur at the hip joint (think of a hanging leg lift), and raises or flexes the trunk toward the hips from a supine or laying down face up position (think of a sit-up). They also laterally rotate the thigh at the hip, and psoas major laterally flexes the spine (side bending).

Psoas major also acts as a “shelf” for our organs to sit on, providing a barrier between those sensitive organs and nerves and our spine.

Iliopsoas – the most adaptive muscles in the body?

Most muscles have a primary function (action or movement). For example, your biceps flex your forearm while your triceps extend it.

Consider that all of the functions or actions of the iliopsoas can be performed by muscles that are bigger and usually stronger:

  • HIP FLEXION: The quad hip flexors in most people are overworked, almost always “on” and will attempt to perform hip flexion for the iliospoas in exercises like hanging leg lifts if given half a chance. Unless you’re extremely body aware and know how to turn your quad hip flexors “off” and let your psoas do the work, chances are you’re initiating and controlling most of this movement with your quad hip flexors, while the iliopsoas play backup.
  • TRUNK FLEXION: The quad hip flexors along with rectus abdominus will attempt to engage to help “flex” the trunk towards the hips through movements like sit-ups. You know this is happening if your lumbar spine curves (creating space between your back and the floor), your quads tighten up and your “abs” and even throat muscles like the sternocleidomastoid (SCM’s) engage to do the sit up for you. For the iliopsoas to be the major mover in this motion the legs must be kept stationary, the hips and head must remain in a neutral position and the iliopsoas becomes the main workhorse. If you’ve ever done a ton of sit-ups and your ABS got sore (rectus abdominus) but NOT your deep core muscles near your hip bones and toward your back, then you probably weren’t engaging your iliopsoas much.
  • LATERAL ROTATION OF THE FEMUR: The iliopsoas are NOT the major lateral rotators of the hip. This job belongs mostly to piriformis, gemellus superior, obturator internus, gemellus inferior, quadratus femoris and the obturator externus.
  • ADDUCTION: The iliopsoas also helps with hip adduction, but the primary hip adductors are adductor magnus, longus and brevis, with pectineus and gracilis obturator externus playing a part as well.
  • LATERAL TRUNK FLEXION: The quadtratus lumborum or QL muscles perform lateral flexion of the vertebral column, while psoas major contributes to the movement.

The primary actions of the iliopsoas are without a doubt hip and trunk flexion (in my opinion, and apparently the opinion of the internet). Yet I believe we rarely use the iliopsoas as the primary movers of these actions, relying instead on other muscles like the quad hip flexors and rectus abdominus, while the iliopsoas provide ancillary support and/or exist as our back-up muscles in case the primary movers fail to perform or become dysfunctional.

Many muscles, while responsible for a primary movement, also perform more than one action. The human body, after all, is a fully connected system that works as a whole to support movement.

Isolating ANY muscle group isn’t wise, because NO muscle functions in a vacuum and ALL muscles require the participation of the whole body. 

I propose that isolating the iliopsoas or psoas muscle(s) specifically and attempting to “treat” them in isolation is especially dangerous, because of ALL muscles in the body these are the most adaptable, the most willing to change based on our habits, posture, sports, lifestyle…and this is a very good thing! That’s their job!

It’s my position that the primary role of the iliopsoas is as an ADAPTIVE MUSCLE GROUP that, by being highly adaptable, supports the primary functions of many large and small muscles.

Because they are SO adaptable, they can step in (if the brain asks them to) to stabilize the pelvis if necessary.

I believe the iliopsoas is our body’s insurance policy against pelvic instability.

They are likely NEVER the cause of pelvic instability, and “releasing” them may destabilize our spine or pelvis making us more prone to injury, pain or instability.

If we are to help the iliopsoas do its job, then we would do best looking at the surrounding muscle groups and see who is overworking, who us under-working, who is inhibited and/or fascially restricted. Taking care of all of this IS taking care of the iliopsoas.

What if the psoas appears “tight”?

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Abdominal Fascia Release – Try This if You Have Digestive Issues or Process Anxiety in Your Gut

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Do you have knots in your stomach? Do you process anxiety and stress in your gut, or have digestive issues?

The gut is a HUGE and very complicated topic. This post is meant to be a signal in the dark, a stopping point where you might glimpse a piece or two of your own unique “gut” puzzle; and I’ll give you a self-help abdominal release technique you can use to begin chipping away at the tension in your belly.

While this self-help work can be extremely beneficial, if possible I highly recommend that you find someone in your area who does Mayan Abdominal Massage. My entire abdominal region has never felt so light, free and spacious as it did after a massage with someone who specializes in this work.

Before I teach you today’s technique I have a question for you:

Are you listening to your gut?

I had horrible digestive issues for nearly 20 years that often meant I opted out of parties, excused myself from dates and hermitted at home even though I wanted to be around people because it was preferable to be alone than put a fake smile on my face and pretend I felt “normal” when I was really in a lot of pain.

The KEY (for me) to healing my gut wasn’t releasing the fascia in my abdomen.

I’m not going to tell my whole story or we’d be here all day, but essentially this boiled down to two things:

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Relieve Heel Pain and Recover from Rolled Ankles – Inner Calf Release

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This area of the body warrants a close look at the anatomy, while the technique itself is very simple.

This one small area, when fascially restricted, can wreak havoc on the entire foot, ankle, heel, plantar fascia and quite possibly a lot of things upstream as well, such as knees, the groin, the SI area and possibly even your neck and head (headaches CAN sometimes be related to this line of fascia being too tight/restricted).

We’re not going to look at the entire body or ALL the ways this one area can impact the body.

Today I want to focus on 3 main things: plantar fasciitis and/or heel pain that is showing up directly in line with the flexor digitorum longus and tibialis posterior tendons, and how this area plays a part in rolling ankles.

You’ll need a lacrosse ball for this one. I do NOT recommend using any other ball, nor do I recommend a theracane (I’ve seen some people use this). The first is too big, and the second too pointed and you’ll likely bruise (something I’m always trying to avoid).

This one small area packs a punch, fascially speaking:

There’s a lot going on in this one small area: the medial head of the gastrocnemius along with the soleus (meidal) and their fascia can get stuck to each other and to the flexor digitorum longus fascia. The flexor digitorum longus, when over-tight (or stuck to other muscles via their connecting fascia), can over-invert the foot, making the ankle susceptible to being rolled.

Also potentially leading to over-inversion of the foot is tibialis posterior, and via its tendon can contribute to ankle pain or heel pain between the ankle and calcaneus.

While we won’t necessarily be getting it directly, this technique can help free up the tibialis posterior, particularly the posterior tibialis TENDON which has a big impact on heel and ankle health.

If you have flat feet, fallen arches or your foot drops (arch collapses) while walking, this is one area to look at (it may not be the culprit) along with everything in the lateral line – ankle and foot fascia, tibialis anterior, perroneals, IT Band fascia etc.

The relationship these two (the medial and lateral lines of fascia) have with one another can determine SO much of what happens in our bodies, because everything in the foot and ankle determines our stride and what happens upstream. If your ankle doesn’t articulate well or creates an unhealthy gait pattern, that pattern transfers up to the knees, hips and shoulders.

As usual around here, I’m less concerned with naming all the muscles involved than talking about the restricted fascia between and around all these muscles.

Fascia also wraps our bones, and I believe this is one area of the body where the fascia of these muscles is particularly clogged or stuck to the bone (in this case the tibia).

The technique I demonstrate in the video isn’t nearly as effective as the in person version that I use on clients, but it’s an acceptable self-help solution (or I wouldn’t be giving it to you).

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Triceps Fascial Release – Free Your Arms & Relieve Elbow & Rotator Cuff Pain

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The triceps – or more accurately, the fascia within and around the tricpeps – typically don’t play the main role in any pain patterns; however they can play a significant minor role in rotator cuff issues, elbow pain (both golfer’s and tennis elbow) and sometimes neck and wrist issues.

The role triceps play in upper body pain:

The diagram on the right shows the Anatomy Trains posterior fascial line that includes the triceps. As you can see, the muscle (and thus the fascia in that muscle) does connect to both the shoulder joint and the rotator cuff, as well as the wrist and neck.

The reason I say the triceps play only a minor role in all the issues I’m going to talk about is because it would be pretty uncommon for anyone in today’s world to overuse their triceps (and I don’t see many clients with triceps fascia that plays a big role); conversely, it’s all too common for us to overuse our BICEPS (the muscle that could be inhibiting your triceps), and I see the biceps fascia playing a HUGE role in all kinds of issues.

So if you have shoulder, rotator cuff, elbow, wrist or neck issues and you haven’t FIRST ruled out the biceps…do that. Click here for my bicep release technique and blog post.

Reasons to release your triceps fascia:

  • You certainly don’t have to be in pain to benefit – I use this one and my arm feels instantly lighter, freer, like it’s floating! Just because you’re not in pain doesn’t mean you can’t feel EVEN BETTER 🙂
  • You have rotator cuff pain/issues or pain behind your shoulder (or IN the posterior shoulder)
  • You have elbow pain (tennis and/or golfer’s elbow)
  • You have pain anywhere in the arm (sometimes it shows up as a line of pain through the biceps, elbow and into the forearm) that happens when your arm is outstretched laterally and you rotate internally
  • You have neck pain, especially pain near the cervical spine up to the occiput (skull)
  • You have pinky side wrist issues

How to get the most out of this technique:

  • Be willing to hunt around for the best spot – it will be a knot or lump, and in MOST people it’s higher up, but go ahead and check EVERYTHING from just above the elbow to just below the shoulder
  • Once you find the spot, do NOT just roll your arm over the barbell in a massage-like manner; instead, focus on PINNING the adhesed piece of fascia to the barbell and use your arm movements to release it while doing your best to keep your humerus (bone) directly on the barbell
  • If you do this right, you don’t need more than 10 back and forths, or approximately 20-30 seconds of pinning and releasing
  • Look for 2 good spots, but DO rule out a third by trying another spot either below or above the other two (sometimes you might miss the BEST one, and if you do you’ll miss the best result)
  • All in all, once you have this down, you’ll only need to spend a MAXIMUM of 3 minutes at the barbell pinning, releasing, taking a quick break and repeating 1-2 more times
  • If you feel ANYTHING that resembles nerve pain COME OFF IMMEDIATELY. Nerve pain is sharp and shooting or electrical and you never want to stay on a nervy area

 

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Release Your Biceps and Free Your Arms, Shoulders and Neck

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I often refer to the biceps as “the quads of the upper body.” Meaning, if I had to choose only ONE thing for every person in the western world to release in their upper body, it would be the biceps (more specifically, ALL the fascia within and around this muscle group INCLUDING the brachialis junction).

The biceps play a KEY role in upper body movement, and when the fascia within and surrounding them gets restricted it can wreak havoc on everything up AND downstream. (The quads are similarly critical in lower body and pelvic movement/structure, and if I had to choose only ONE thing to release in the lower body it would be the quads).

Reasons to release the fascia in your biceps:

  • Helps relieve shoulder issues, especially bicep tendon issues
  • Relieves elbow pain (especially when combined with my forearm or brachialis techniques)
  • Helps with carpal tunnel and wrist pain (combine with the forearms release linked to above)
  • Can be a player in neck issues and neck pain (combine with the pec and deltoid and trap/scalene release)
  • General upper body fascial health – keeping your biceps fascia free, unrestricted and elastic means better efficiency in your everyday life and activities!

Now, let’s look at some anatomy:

Pictured to the right you can see how connected the biceps are to the shoulder joint AND the elbow joint, and you can probably imagine because everything is connected, how they are also linked to the scapula (and rotator cuff) as well as the neck.

When the fascia in the upper arm gets dehydrated, shrinks and sticks to itself in balls, this pulls on ALL of the above mentioned joints and can contribute or be the main cause of a lot of issues, from radiating pain down the arm to rotator cuff and shoulder joint pain as well as biceps tendon tears and neck pain.

Is this a one-off solution for any of the above mentioned issues? Most likely not. MOST of the time there is a chain of connected players in any given “pain pattern,” and all of them need to be addressed to eliminate the issue.

I highly recommend using this technique IN CONJUNCTION with other techniques, depending on your goal.

Tips for getting the most out of this technique:

  • I tried several different balls for this, and the baseball was BY FAR the best. The lacrosse ball (my usual favorite) was a little too small. So if you can find a baseball you will definitely get the BEST result.
  • Take your time finding the right “pin”, and this might be different for every one of you. For me, the best way to pin my biceps is to start with the short head, or on the “inside” meaty part like I demonstrate in the video, and then use rotation to separate the stuck fascia between the two heads.
  • Take a lunging stance in order to sink your weight into the ball and get the best result with more compression.
  • Spread your fingers wide and make sure your arm is mostly or totally straight. This engages ALL the fibers of muscle and surrounding fascia in your entire arm, ensuring the best result that will affect joints up and down the chain.
  • Make sure you’re actually PINNING the tissues and not just rolling over or “massaging” them. This won’t actually release the fascia!
  • There may only be ONE or maybe two spots to go after on this one. If you get it right, you will only need 30 or so seconds, or maybe 10 back and forth rotations. Then I’d leave it for a day.
  • If you’re using this to get out of pain, make sure you include whatever other techniques may be necessary to get the best result.
  • If it’s a wrist or carpal tunnel issue, go after your forearms and brachialis.
  • If it’s a shoulder issue, you could use my pec and deltoid release.
  • If you’re looking to eliminate neck pain, definitely go after your pec and deltoid as well as your traps and scalenes.
  • If you have pain between the shoulder blades, click here for the best techniques to address that.
  • Use the SEARCH box in the right sidebar to find what you need on this site.

 

If you liked this post please “like” and share it!

Subscribe here and on YouTube for new posts every Monday.

For personalized help with head to toe pain issues, click here to schedule a private Skype consultation with Elisha Celeste. SUBSCRIBE below and get $15 off your first session.

 

TFL Release for Relaxed Hips and Low Back Pain Relief

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I know some of you have waited a long time for this! I had to get creative because I didn’t want to give you something that was already out there, nor anything that’s only minimally effective.

I’m happy to report I was able to come up with something that mimics what I do with my private clients REALLY well.

TOOLS:

You will need some kind of pole, preferably a hollow one, and a tennis ball.

A few words about commonly used tools and techniques for TFL release: I have seen (and tried) all the commonly used ways to target the TFL, including using a foam roller, a lacrosse ball on the floor or against a wall, a baseball on the floor etc.

I was never impressed with ANY of these methods or tools because it was always my experience that a) it was VERY difficult to accurately find the correct spot and stay on it, and b) because of the nature of HOW these techniques must be performed (lying on your side on a mobility tool), I always felt like my body weight was SQUISHING my TFL far too much to allow for a true pin and stretch release. Remember: massaging a muscle, rolling around on it or compressing it to “melt” the soft tissue is NOT what I teach; here on Mobility Mastery I’m always trying to mimic what I do with my private clients, which is a pin, release and stretch of the fascia.

I am so happy I’ve finally figured out how to address this in a way that mimics what I do with my private clients! For those of you who have been using the other methods, I’d LOVE to hear from you if you try my way out. I think you will love it.

Why release your TFL?

In my 8 years of working with fascia for pain relief and mastering mobility, I’ve never seen the fascia within the TFL play the primary role in what I call a “pain pattern.” (Low back pain, knee pain, hip pain etc). Meaning…it is never my go-to ONE area of the body to target, if I were limited to choosing only one area to release. Obviously, in my office with clients I’m never limited to one thing, so I always check the TFL and release it when necessary, and it often does play a role in a lot of pain patterns.

Generally speaking, I’ve found it to be a key peripheral player that definitely needs attention, but usually after taking care of the primary players (which could be the quads and hip flexors, the IT Band fascia, the adductors, etc).

I won’t be going into detail for all the pain patterns that include the TFL (we’d be here all day). I will be talking about it’s role in low back pain, so if that’s you please read that (below) before trying this technique.

If you are NOT in pain and simply want to free your hips and feel even better than ‘normal,’ then what are you waiting for?! Go after it.

If you ARE in pain:

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