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.

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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  • Carol Watson says:

    I’m glad to have run upon your site again! For over 4 years I’ve dealt with complex regional pain syndrome in my rt foot. After multiple drs, multiple procedures/treatments, Rx’s, of which NONE helped, I’m now trying a vibration machine which someone just sent to me! But I remember in the beginning a DO intern manipulated my foot and leg (VERY painful) which helped for a couple of days, then the hot, burn, stinging pain returned. He said it was opening the fascia. Same with a chiropractor. Also I keep 5 pain relieving pads in the freezer which I use often and take one with me wherever I go. It’s the only thing that gives me relief and a helps me to sleep periodically during the night. My question is…unless you have suggestions for me from the above info!… does cold restrict the fascia and all these years I’ve been making it worse while at the same time relieving the pain? Thx for your help!

  • Lisa says:

    There is a place called Clear Passage in FL that I think is using very gentle myofascial release of adhesions in the abdominal cavity to relieve intestinal obstructions and abdominal surgery adhesions and reproductive organ problems. They do very slow, gentle twisting. It would be fascinating to 1) experience their method and 2) see if it can be applied to a whole body approach. So neat!

  • Bob says:

    Hi, what are your views on hydrating fascia etc seeing as it is believed that fascia is made of collagen and is too strong to be manipulated by human pressure, as I understand from this that you must fix your fascia internally but you said in an article before that: Fasciacytes are ONLY activated by compression and shearing of fascial fibres that have gotten glued or stuck together, either in ropes or adhesions (“knots”).

    So I am a bit confused.

    • Hey Bob – thanks for the question. First of all, I reserve the right to continue educating myself and expanding upon my own knowledge year by year. I am certain that blogs of mine from 2015 don’t encompass all that I know now. So please take that into consideration. As of right now (end of 2020), I still uphold what I shared in this blog and video – in order to change fascia, we must involve the fascia itself by using movement under compression. Aside from this, fascia will be very resistant to any outside force trying to change it, because it was designed to withstand up to 2,000lbs of mechanical stress without deforming, as a means of automated self-protection (mechanical stress = force coming into the body that could “change” or deform our soft tissue).

      However, fascia is not made of just collagen – it is supposed to be 70% structured water, or water in its 4th phase. We are supposed to be more water than collagen, and it is the combination of water (which gives fascia its ability to absorb mechanical stress without deforming because it can send that stress through the whole system, much like throwing a rock in a pond and watching the ripples go to the edges of the pond). The collagen lends itself to the strength of the fibers, but when we are more collagen than water we get ligament and tendon tears, muscle tears etc. The more dense we are, the more prone we are to tearing injuries, arthritis, tendonitis etc.

      To answer your question about hydrating fascia (I have other videos and blogs on specifically this btw), the best way I know how is with compression and shearing of the fascia, which activates fasciacytes, which in turn synthesize hyaluronic acid, which in turn imbibes the water we drink. It’s also good to live as non-toxic as possible, make sure the detox systems are functioning optimally because toxicity will drain our water fast. Beyond that, I like to supplement my water with liquid minerals, drink filtered water and shower in filtered water (since we absorb a lot of chemicals when we shower).

  • Chris says:

    My wife suffers with what we were told was Fibromyalgia. She read an article somewhere that showed promise in pain relief with a Fascia massage. In your experience has a Fascia massage helped with Fibro?

    • Hi Chris – I’m not sure what you mean when you say “fascia massage”, as there are so many modalities claiming to target fascia. I have some videos/blogs that share my thoughts about fibromyalgia, as I’ve worked with quite a few clients diagnosed with it. In my experience there’s always been a nervous system component. Meaning, the nervous system is stuck in a pattern of constantly perceiving danger, and most of my clients report that in their childhood they were shamed/scolded or otherwise told that their emotions weren’t welcome, so they didn’t feel safe to FEEL as children. Those repressed feelings get stuck in the body then. Your wife may or may not fit this pattern. Most people with fibromyalgia have difficulty with bodywork because the experience produces a lot of intensity, and then a “flare up” of soft tissue pain occurs. This is why I recommend working with someone who understands the role of the nervous system in creating patterns of protection, who can help disarm the nervous system and release the pattern of holding in the body. This will be a person, not a modality, since within every modality are skillful practitioners and really unskillful ones. Good luck to you both!

  • ThisIsJustAJoke, Great Article though :) says:

    If I stepped on someone metaphorically by screwing them over, would that be an effective fascial release for their brain?

    • haha says:

      probably will help the person release the relationship quite quickly, i don’t think you’ll effect any other aspect of them though.

  • Margie Sell says:

    I am seeing an RN specializing in fascia. After 3 treatments, she informed me she was very upset with me for screaming in pain as she dug nonstop, and unless I never do it again she will send me packing. My problems went misdiagnosed for 15 months and have been worn down by the pain. I cannot endure pain well. What is a patient to do when a situation is intolerable?

    • Hi Margie – I’m sorry you’re having that experience. I would never say something like that to you. The intensity level of fascia release is due to how unhealthy it is, in combination with any underlying nervous system patterns you might have. Your nervous system governs (in part) your fight/flight/freeze response, and if someone digs into you too harshly and your nervous system perceives that experience as threatening, you will just tense up to protect yourself and no real change will happen. So I highly recommend finding someone to work with who will honor your body’s current state, honor you and what you can or cannot tolerate. OR, you can work on yourself and save lots of money in the process. I have tons of free self-help fascia release techniques. What pain are you experiencing? You can search my site and find techniques tailored to your issue. And I recommend checking out my blog posts/videos on the nervous system so you can better understand how to work WITH your body instead of against it. Wishing you healing!

      • Nancy says:

        Elisha Celeste…. I would very much like to work on myself… as I am in chronic pain for years and even massages are almost intolerable. Where do I find your site please and your video’s? And, THANK YOU! Nancy Brady, RN, Ireland

  • Elle says:

    Hello! Do you have anyone in the New Jersey or Philadelphia area doing your Kinetix method? Thanks!

    • Hi Elle – Kinetix is so new that we only have 5 Practitioners currently (in CO and CA). There are 16 students currently studying with me that will be Certified in 2020. The closest to you is near Washington DC I believe. If you’re on my email list or in the FB group, I will be announcing when these 16 students start working with clients as part of their curriculum in January and will send exact locations and a contact list to schedule with them.

  • Brian says:

    Hey Elisha,

    Do you know anyone in the DFW area of Texas who is doing this?

    • Hey Brian – I have a new student of mine that I believe is in your area. She’s currently enrolled in my Kinetix Practitioner Program, and will become Certified next year in June. However, she will be accepting clients starting in late January 2020 at a discounted rate while she’s still in the program and has access to me. Will you please email [email protected] asking for the contact info for my DFW Kinetix student? One of us can get back to you on that, thanks!

  • 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.

  • Anya says:

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

  • Krystal says:

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

  • 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! ????

    • Hey Debbie – thanks for the comment! I have a post about abdominal fascia here: https://mobilitymastery.com/abdominal-fascia-release-try-this-if-you-have-digestive-issues-or-process-anxiety-in-your-gut/

      Have you ruled out anything serious in the vital organs? I’m not allowed to give medical advice and that much swelling. Oils be all kinds of things. I’ve had that kind of swelling happen to me due to metal toxicity, specially mercury. It sounds like something other than just tight fascai in the ribs, so if I were you I’d rule out anything more systemic or get the help of a good alternative health doc. Good luck!

      • Debbie says:

        Thanks for the link! I will check it out.
        They have done all of the internal test and everything comes back normal. It feels like something from the nerves with the shocks.

  • 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!

  • 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!

    • 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!

  • 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!!

  • 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

    • 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

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