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 Relieve Menstrual Cramps – Partner Technique for Abdominal Fascia Release

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Women – have you ever planned something fun, like a date or a backpacking adventure, only to realize with horror after you step out your door that your period is here and all you want to do is go home, curl up on the couch and try not to die?

Men – how many of you are impacted by the horrible period cramps of the women in your life? (Please keep those eyeballs from rolling back in your head!)

This post isn’t just for women. If you men forward this to your female friends, or better yet learn to do the partner technique in the video, you just might become hero of the year 🙂

First, a disclaimer: there are a LOT of factors that can impact periods, including the existence of cramps. I do not claim to be a hormone specialist, doctor or period afficionado. I DO, however, know fascia; and we have a TON of it in our abdominal cavities. How healthy our abdominal fascia is can mean the difference between horrible period cramps and mild or non-existent ones. I’m speaking from personal experience as a woman, and having worked on friends. If you try this and it doesn’t work – chances are your cramps are not due to fascial restrictions.

What if we’re not doomed – by nature – to experience horrible cramps?

It’s my belief (through experience) that one major cause of horrific period cramps is restricted fascia within the abdominal cavity.

I don’t want to get crazy graphic here, because that’s not actually what this post is about, but basically during menstruation the female body is shedding the lining from the uterus. This blood has to travel through the lower abdominal cavity to and through the cervix.

Every organ and muscle requires innervation, including the female reproductive organs and the surrounding pelvic muscles. Innervation is critical for optimal function of organs and muscles, and this process can become inhibited or slow due to restricted fascia.

Proper space in our fascial system is what allows nerves to communicate properly and blood to flow (throughout the entire body, including the abdominal cavity).

Releasing this restricted fascia allows for better innervation of the organs and muscles that are responsible for menstruation, the blood starts flowing without impediment and cramps ease or are eliminated.

I’ve successfully used this technique with friends, and I’m sending my man this blog post so he can do this for me 🙂

How to get the most out of this technique:

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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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Master Mobility by Learning the Distinctions Between Flexibility, Inflexibility and Fascial Restrictions Part 3 – Flexibility or Mobility Issue?

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This is Part 3 in a 3-Part series. Click here for Part 1 and click here for Part 2.

When is “inflexibility” a fascial restriction or mobility issue, and when is it true inflexibility?

That’s the topic of Part 3, the last in this series.

Fascial restriction can APPEAR to impact flexibility, and this is a really important distinction to understand because if we try to target what seems inflexible rather than going after the cause of immobility, we could injure ourselves or make things a lot worse.

I will not be covering every possible example of this or we’d be here all day, but I do want to give you the ones I see the most in my private practice.

Got tight hamstrings? Are you SURE?

The most common example of this is when the hamstrings appear tight or inflexible when what is really going on is a low back pain pattern (even if you don’t have low back pain).

If you’re in a fascial restriction pattern that is endangering your spine, your brain will step in to PROTECT you by limiting your range of motion.

In the case of low back pain patterns it is my opinion that the brain recruits the GLUTES and hamstrings to tighten up neurologically to keep you from injuring your spine.

The real CAUSE of distress in the low back is going to be somewhere in the quads and quad hip flexors, the IT Bands or adductors.

Most often it is actually the glutes that are the “tightest” (neurologically speaking, NOT from overuse) and if the glutes are in lock down there’s no way you’re going to be able to reach down and touch your toes. (Your body is PROTECTING you). But the problem is NOT hamstring inflexibility. I see a LOT of people attempting to stretch their hamstrings in an attempt to relieve low back pain and posterior chain tightness and I always cringe!

And…some people just have inflexible hamstrings, plain and simple.

The key to mastering your mobility is to learn how to know the difference.

Other examples:

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Master Mobility by Learning the Distinctions Between Flexibility, Inflexibility and Fascial Restriction Issues; Part 2: When to Increase Flexibility & When to Release Fascia

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This is Part II in a three part series. Click here for Part I.

Know YOUR goals:

If you’re trying to increase flexibility then I highly recommend you first get crystal clear on WHY you want this.

If you’re in pain and you think increasing your flexibility will get you OUT of pain, I’m here to tell you that the OPPOSITE is a far more likely and a safer approach: get yourself OUT of pain and you will probably (and quite quickly) recover the flexibility you lost when your nervous system detected danger and went about protecting you from further injury by restricting your mobility.

If you’re TRULY inflexible and you are NOT in pain, then by all means work on increasing flexibility – safely, in ways that don’t stress your tissues or put you in danger of injury (NOT static stretching).

If you’re not in pain and you’re a dancer, gymnast, runner, yogi etc…then you will be forced to do some static stretching, and I recommend you go about this in such a way that you don’t injure your soft tissue or joints.

If you are in pain AND you want to increase flexibility, then I highly recommend getting yourself out of pain FIRST. You’ll have a better baseline of what your actual flexibility level is like, and you won’t be running the risk of injury or increased pain by endangering your body with stretching that could cause more harm than good.

Know you’re why and you’ll begin forming an alliance with your body that will allow you to reach your goals safely, and far faster.

When to use fascial release:

  • If you’re in pain – anything from plantar fasciitis (all the itises) to knee pain, hip pain, back pain, shoulder issues, carpal tunnel pain, repetitive motion injuries, “pulled” or sprained muscles or ligaments etc
  • If you have restricted range of motion in one or more joints (hips, shoulders, knees, ankles, wrists) and you’re otherwise “flexible” enough to perform everyday tasks without issue (it’s likely a fascial restriction issue but this COULD be a true need for more flexibility – part 3 in this series is all about the overlap and how to know the differences)
  • Injury PREVENTION
  • If you want more SPRING in your system (and we should ALL want more spring!)
  • If you’re an athlete looking for an “edge” (optimize your fascia and you gain up to 10x better proprioception, not to mention you’ll be far less injury prone and you’ll recover faster)
  • If you want to feel lighter, more spacious and give your muscle fibers the freedom to move fluidly, no matter your age, activity level and even if you’re not in pain

When to increase flexibility:

  • You’re NOT in pain
  • You do a sport that requires more flexibility than the average person needs, such as gymnastics, yoga, dancing, ballet, CrossFit etc
  • You’ve ruled out fascial restriction issues and pain patterns that lead to lack of mobility as a reason for your inflexibility and you want to increase your natural bendyness
  • ……
  • yep, that’s all I got! Short list.

PARENTS AND COACHES OF CHILD ATHLETES:

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What to do for Whiplash and Upper Body Impact Injuries – Whether Acute or Decades Old

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If you’ve been in a car accident or experienced any kind of head or upper body impact trauma, chances are you also experienced some form of whiplash, whether mild or extreme.

What exactly is whiplash?

*Please note I am not trying to diagnose anyone! These are common experiences of people who have experienced or been diagnosed with whiplash or associated pain by a medical professional before coming to see me.

Most of the time we think of car accidents when we think of whiplash, but after 8 years of working with people in pain I think it can be applied to anything from falling while snowboarding or skiing, to contact sports like football or being dropped on your head if you’re a dancer or acro yogi.

It is my opinion that the body’s reaction to this kind of impact trauma is almost always the same, regardless of how it happened: the biceps and/or chest muscles will instinctively react with a powerful contraction to protect your neck from snapping (backwards or forwards), which has the potential to kill you instantly. This is our body’s way of protecting us from death!

I see the MAIN cause of resulting pain post-trauma coming from all the muscles and fascia AROUND the neck staying in a tightly contracted state, which will certainly cause a lot of neck pain and other issues often associated with whiplash.

The problem is NOT your neck:

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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.

 

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Relieve TMJD and Jaw Pain Plus Tension Headaches and Neck Pain

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Do you suffer with TMJD (jaw pain) or “text neck?”

I feel your pain! I hold a lot of tension in my jaw and have for a long time, and it is exacerbated dramatically by the fact that I look down all day for work…which makes the entire front part of my neck very, very tight. This tension pulls on my jaw (and yours, if you’re in a similar boat), making the jaw feel even tighter.

If you hold a lot of tension in your throat muscles and/or jaw, then you’re going to love the two techniques I show you today!

For the BEST result:

You will get the absolute MOST out of these two techniques if you combine them with the chest release followed by the best neck release EVER (it really IS the BEST, and if you haven’t tried it yet then you must – especially if you have any of the issues mentioned in this post).

Few pain patterns exist in isolation where you only need to target one or two areas, and this is no exception. Usually with something like TMJD, whiplash, tension headaches and neck pain, there are other factors at play. These two techniques alone will give you some good relief, but if you’re looking to eliminate the pain then be as thorough as possible by using the techniques linked to above.

Here’s what we’re targeting:

Technique #1:

For the first technique we are really targeting EVERYTHING we possibly can in the front of the neck, with special emphasis on the SCM (sternocleidomastoid). We also want to grab as much of the many hyoid muscles’ fascia as well.

I know for me sometimes even just looking up or tilting my head up like the photo on the right causes the entire front of my neck to stretch because it is so tight. The more spacious this entire front part of the neck is, the more freedom the jaw (joint) and muscles of the jaw will have. We are NOT targeting that area today. So if you grind your teeth and most of your tension is actually IN the jaw itself…this may bring your some relief but it will not eliminate the pain.

The first technique I show you is CERTAINLY the most important. If you’re pressed for time or only want to commit to doing one of these, then pick the first one.

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Pec and Front Deltoid Release for Relaxed Shoulders and Necks

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If you look down at your phone all day, work on a computer, have small children and carry them frequently, have forward head posture or forward rotated shoulders etc, then this is something you will want to include in a weekly fascial health routine.

You will need a lacrosse ball for these two techniques.

Release your pecs for more upper body freedom!

While we will certainly grab and stretch pec major in this technique, it is really THE FASCIA in and around pec minor that we want to target.

Pec minor attaches to the 3rd, 4th and 5th ribs and draws the scapula forward and down, and elevates the ribs if the origin and insertion are reversed. 

The primary actions of this muscle include the stabilization, depression, abduction or protraction, upward tilt, and downward rotation of the scapula. When the ribs are immobilized, this muscle brings the scapula forward, and when the scapula is fixed, it lifts up the rib cage. (Excerpt from healthline.com)

As you can see it plays a huge role in shoulder mobility. When overly tight it contributes to forward head posture, forward rotated shoulders and the pain patterns that arise from this (which include neck pain, shoulder pain, headaches etc).

These techniques can help address:

  • Shoulder pain
  • Rotator cuff issues
  • Forward head posture
  • Forward rotated shoulders
  • Headaches, if they are tension related
  • Neck Pain
  • Whiplash
  • TMJ pain
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