Fascia as Told by a Massage Therapist

You hear it all over the massage and physical therapy world these days.  It’s all the craze.  It’s FASCIA!  And it is everywhere.  Literally.

Fascia at its most basic level is several layers of connective tissue that is just below the skin’s surface and basically encases our entire body.

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However, giving it more detail, fascia is much more than that.  I have long heard the analogy that fascia is like a spider web of connective tissue and the truth is that visually it really does resemble that.

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Another analogy that I have recently come across was written by fitness coach Brooke Thomas.  She compared fascia to an orange.  Yes, you heard me correctly, an orange.  She states that an orange has the skin that you have to peel but what you are left with is an orange with each wedge encapsulated in a “fascia” and within that wedge is more little structures encapsulated in this fascia.  Well our body is the same way.

Our entire body, each muscle, tendon, and ligament is encapsulated in fascia, just like that orange.  Every structure has its own little fascia sheath that then spider webs out and encapsulates our whole body.  So when we tell you that everything is connected, we truly mean everything in your body is connected.  Connected by the fascia.

I on the other hand, always think of fascia when I am dealing with raw chicken.  The thin slimy white sheath that always covers the chicken breast I am working with is the fascia.  Ashley Black has studied under renowned fascial pioneer John F. Barnes, PT and under the Anatomy Trains group and has started a path of her own in the fascia world.  In her research she actually identifies 4 different types of fascia.  On her website she actually breaks down fascia using a piece of raw chicken.  I was blown away.  Finally someone who thinks like I do.

According to Ashley Black’s perspective, since fascia completely encases our body whether it be muscles or nerves the fascia also holds our blood in place.   That being said, if our fascia is tight it is restricting everything else that it holds.  So, if our fascia is restricting our nerves we can feel nerve pain.  If fascia is restricting our muscle from relaxing we might feel cramped muscles.  If fascia is restricting our blood flow…well let’s not get to that point.  Let’s take care of it now.

There is great treatments to help and release fascia.  You might have heard of it.  It’s called myofascial release.  And chances are you have been doing it since you were a child.   You might remember doing a playground act of torture (by a not so politically correct name) of twisting the skin of a classmate’s wrist in opposite directions until they surrendered.

Well this simple and seemingly painful wrist burn is a form of myofascial release believe it or not.  The way we do this on the massage table is through a technique called skin rolling.  Here I basically pull up your skin to loosen it away from the underlying structures.  I then move this along your body.  This will help to break up the abnormalities in the fascia or break up adhesions.  The result of myofascial release is often times ischemic pressure.  This is where we are intentionally causing a blockage of blood to the area we are working on and once we release the body part blood rushes back to the area.  You will actually see the area turn red.  It is nothing to be alarmed of.  It indicates a healthy refreshed blood flow back to the area.

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If you have ever been on my massage table you will know that I am a huge proponent of starting my massages with myofascial release.  It is a way of massaging layer by layer.   Once I loosen up the superficial fascia, and then the deep fascia, then I can actually see how much of your actual muscle tension exists.

While I will tell you that it is best for you to get a massage by a Licensed Massage Therapist there is still hope for in between those sessions.  If massage is not your thing, cupping can also help to lift the fascia and help with circulation.  Foam rolling has been a popular way of home care.  Although most people tap out when they start to feel a little bit of pain.  But the bottom line is that fascia responds to that direct compression the same way that trigger points do.   In addition to that, fascia is very fluid.  So we have to hydrate to keep it loose.  But the caveat is that we can drink as much water as we want but if there are kinks in our fascia blocking the fluid from going anywhere we are just going to be drinking water and going to the bathroom a lot.  So we have to hydrate and do the manual work.  Another great treatment for your fascia is Kinesio Taping.  The Kinesio tape, in addition to relieving pain and turning your muscles on or off, it actually lifts up your fascia to increase circulation.

At Oahu Spine and Rehab all of your massage therapists are trained to perform myofascial release and can help answer question you might have.  We are happy to do cupping sessions as well as apply Kinesio tape.  Our physical therapist and rehab technicians are happy to show you how to properly foam roll to release fascia.  And if you are looking for one of those classic playground wrist burns let me know.  I had quite the reputation in my day.

Recommended Reading

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Resources:

https://breakingmuscle.com/mobility-recovery/the-top-5-ways-fascia-matters-to-athletes

http://ashleyblacksystems.com/what-is-fascia/

http://www.pamelamorrisonpt.com/description-of-services/skin-rolling-techniques/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ischemic_compression

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