The One Rule of Effective Fascial Release, And Why Massage Doesn’t ‘Release’ Fascia
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.
Get the fascia to change itself and your results will be powerful – and they will LAST.
The methods I’m aware of that can achieve this goal are all ones that use compression and active movement, and yes – SOME of them are massage modalities. They are the exception though, as most massage therapists currently out there work within the Swedish, Deep Tissue or Sports modalities, and even many therapists who claim to work with fascia don’t create much actual change. I WAS one of those last therapists for a year – I specialized in myofascial massage for people in pain. They felt better for a day, then their pain would come back.
This is why ‘stepping on people’ is so effective – sometimes I use my entire body weight to compress tissue while my clients move under my foot and release fascial adhesions and restrictions.
The compression holds a piece of the fascial system in place while the active movement engages the very fascia you’re trying to change, recruiting it to change itself. Whatever is doing the compressing is merely a tool being used by the insides of your body – whether that’s my feet (if you’re a client of mine) a foam roller, lacrosse ball and sometimes hands in the case of skilled massage therapists etc.
When we do this we’re engaging ALL systems of the body at once – the brain and nervous system, muscle and fascia, even bones and of course the mental willpower to see it through! Because this work is NOT always pleasant or easy.
While most modalities attempt to manipulate and force fascia and muscle to change by applying force from the outside and then digging in or trying to change it, truly powerful and long lasting relief is achieved from the inside out.
Think about that for a moment…
Don’t you think that applies to just about everything in life?
When someone or something is an an unhealthy state that requires change, whatever is in trouble *HAS* to change itself for the change to stick.
I mean…your partner can’t go on that diet for you, quit smoking for you or change your fascia for you. Alas!
I do want to say I know there are some rare modalities or more precisely practitioners who are extremely skilled and can achieve some degree of change through outside force; but it is my opinion that these people are quite rare.
I’m also not trying to disrespect massage or massage therapists! I was one – it’s hard freaking work. I currently get massages every 2-3 weeks myself.
I do think it’s important to know its limitations and be clear about WHY you’re choosing it. I go because I found someone really good here in Boulder who can get into the small areas around my neck and back that I can’t get into with the work I do. And because it just FEELS GOOD. I get a lot of benefit from going somewhere for two hours where I can close my eyes and feel supported and loved up. Those are my reasons for choosing massage.
If I want to create lasting change in my body’s soft tissue structure however, I always choose fascial release – either one of my now graduated apprentices working on me, or one of the many Mobility Mastery techniques I’ve created for self fascial release.