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

By September 26, 2016Philosophy

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.

This is the ONE rule of effective fascial release.

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 modalities and practitioners who are extremely skilled and can achieve change through outside force with hands and elbows; but it is my opinion that these people are the exception, not the rule. 

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.

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  • Jayne miller says:

    Hi, i agree with your thinking. To that end, do you know anyone in Orange County, CA who does what you do that you can recommend? I would be most grateful. Thanks. Jayne

    • Elisha Celeste says:

      Hi Jayne – Thanks! And as a matter of fact yes, I have an apprentice in San Pedro. Her name is JoAnn Frisina and her phone number is (310) 387-0047. She is an AWESOME human being, and she’s got full access to me right now for consults on clients as my apprentice. Please let me know if you reach out to her and what that experience is like! Best, Elisha

  • Jenny Pitts says:

    Hi Elisha,

    I totally agree with your philosophy based on my experience. I have dealt with 18+ years of debilitating pain due to fascial restrictions. It took from 1999 when I sustained a 20 ft fall resulting in thoracic compression fractures until having to go on disability in 2014 to truly understand what has happened to my body and how and why the pain kept spreading over the years. And that knowledge has really just come since 2016. I continue to have myofascial sessions with only limited relief. The emotional trauma of being told the pain is in my head by MDs has made me further walk around in chronic tension. There is something about the client moving that empowers them to break free of the fear and pain. Do you know of anyone near Charlotte, North Carolina who has completed your training or uses this method? I am desperate to get better. I am 40 years old and been dealing with this for almost half of my life. Thank you for any help you can offer me!!

  • Melaina johnson says:

    I’m interested in your theory of fascial release. You mentioned compression and movement. Are you referring to exercise as movement and compression being the muscle development? I have been suffering from chronic jaw, neck(in the areas of the scalenes/sternocleidomastoid), and border of scapula pain on right side for about a year now, and feel as though I’ve tried everything. Any advice is greatly appreciated!

    • Elisha Celeste says:

      Hi Meliana – when I talk about compression and movement I’m talking about compressing the soft tissue while performing movement that stretches and releases tight or adhesed fascia. You can watch a video that shows what Kinetix is (the method I’ve developed) here: https://mobilitymastery.com/kinetix/

      Everything here on Mobility Mastery for self-help is based on Kinetix techniques. If you’d like personalized help with your unique situation I offer Skype consultations. You can find out more here: https://mobilitymastery.com/work-with-elisha/

      Thanks for reaching out!

  • karen Claymon says:

    Hi, I agree with your philosophy. Do you know of someone in the san Francisco or east bay area (around walnut creek) who does fascia massage. (With structural –think it is called etsy) .

    Thank you.

    • Stefan Cox says:

      Hey Karen – thank you for taking the time share your agreement! Unfortunately I don’t know of anyone in that area doing that type of work. I am sure there are some myofascial massage therapists there! It’s quite popular and more widespread than my method, called Kinetix, which is brand new and there are only a handful of us so far. Good luck finding someone!

  • Debbie says:

    Reading this has made many lightbulbs come on. Things are finally making sense. I have been dealing with fascial pain now for almost 4 years. My worst seems to be under my right ribs. If I do much activity my belly swells to the point of looking pregnant and I get electrical shocks and sharp stabbing pain. I found your You-tube video for the body but what can I do for my abdominal area? Thank you for your work! 😊

  • Krystal says:

    Hello, do you know of anyone in the New England area who does this? Thanks!

  • Anya says:

    Great concept! I do Thai massage, it has many good movements for holding and active movements, no wonder it works!

  • Soleilune says:

    Hi! I’ve been following your work do a while! I would love to be able to experience the benefits thereof form the hands of a skilled practitioner. Do you know anyone in Alaska, specifically anchorage or Wasilla who does what you do?
    Thank you!

    • I wish I knew someone near you! To clarify, my modality doesn’t use hands at all – Kinetix uses compression via body weight by stepping on people and then the client initiates movement to release the fascia under that compression from being stepped on. This is a brand new modality in the world, there are only 5 of us so far. If you’re looking for guidance using my methods exactly, I recommend joining an online course of mine. You can read more here: https://mobilitymastery.mykajabi.com/how-to-create-mind-body-freedom

      I only open enrollment once per year, and it’s right now actually. The closes thing to my method to search for would be someone trained in ART. Myofascial massage for instance is very different, though they do work with fascia.

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