Monday, 9 December 2013

Are You Free To Move....? Part One....

I was first introduced to fascial release a couple of weeks ago. I was unsure how it was going to affect me - if at all - but I’m always happy to give treatment and therapies a fair opportunity. Within 15 minutes of being with fitness coach Graham “Harry Potter” Webber (@grahamwebber) I observed a noticeable difference. The entire left side of my body has been injured in various different life changing events, resulting in permanent, constant pain from top to bottom, restricting movement and preventing me from performing at my best. I was surprised that I could make a distinction with my movement immediately, and after some joint mobilisation, I felt lighter in myself and generally more comfortable. It’s hard to explain, and of course each individual would respond differently to the various practices offered.
So what is fascia and why should we release it?
Fascia is classified according to their distinct layers, their functions and their anatomical location: superficial fascia, deep (or muscle) fascia, and visceral (or parietal) fascia.
Like ligaments, aponeuroses, and tendons, fasciae are dense regular connective tissues, containing closely packed bundles of collagen fibres oriented in a wavy pattern parallel to the direction of pull. Fasciae are consequently flexible structures able to resist great unidirectional tension forces until the wavy pattern of fibres has been straightened out by the pulling force. These collagen fibres are produced by the fibroblasts located within the fascia.
Fasciae are similar to ligaments and tendons as they are all made of collagen, the distinction between them is that ligaments join one bone to another bone, tendons join muscle to bone and fasciae surround muscles or other structures.
Fascial mobilisation may sound like it has something to do with movement of the face, but it’s actually something quite different; fascia refers to connective tissue - the network of collagen fibres that surround organs, muscles, nerves, and blood vessels. The fascial system provides support and delivers nutrition to these structures, as well as serving as a bridge to the skeleton. This system also helps to absorb shock and resist physical injury.
Fascial release is a soft tissue therapy for the treatment of skeletal muscle immobility and pain. It relaxes contracted muscles, improves blood and lymphatic circulation, and stimulates the stretch reflex in muscles.
The fascial system is viewed as being three-dimensional. That is, it exists as one, long continuous network of connective tissue. While it is constructed of dense collagen fibres to lend strength, it is also made up of elastin fibres that stretch to help prevent injury. Proponents of fascial mobilisation believe that the entire fascial system may influence immunity and the body’s natural ability to purge itself of toxins.
It is also thought that impaired functioning of the fascia may result in a variety of symptoms, such as pain and inflammation. Fascial impairment may be caused by a variety of things. For instance, physical trauma, scar tissue produced from surgical procedures, or prolonged misalignment of the posture may cause constriction in the fascial system.
Fascial mobilisation is a type of hands-on bodywork that attempts to correct imbalances within the fascial system to restore proper functioning. Specifically, it is a technique that aims to relieve stress by applying pressure to targeted areas within the fascial system. The objective of fascial mobilisation is to get the tissue moving in the right direction again in order to improve mobility.
As a therapeutic method, fascial mobilisation is employed to bring relief from autoimmune disorders, such as fibromyalgia. It is also used to treat scoliosis, chronic headaches, back pain, and even cervical pain. Of course, those who have sustained sports injuries may benefit from fascial mobilisation as well.
Dr Gil Hedley explains it as the living adipose. The adipose layer is basically liquid energy and raw power suspended in a web of piezoelectric ally conductive collagen fibres. Through it are transmitted fields of information from our external environment to the depths of our bodies at all times. The adipose layer is replete with specialised smooth muscle cells, whereby the tissue tone is maintained and adjusted. It is as if our soft coating of fat is a living antenna of the most sensitive kind, receiving from without and broadcasting within the waves of information that surround us. Like the skin, it is a great sense organ, a sensual wrap. But he posits that rather than conducting the signals it picks up primarily along electrochemical pathways to the brain in our skull, it is primarily conducting its signals electromagnetically to the brain in our gut. It’s fast! When you feel the creepy guy on the subway platform staring at you from behind, you look to confirm what you already perceived with your adipose antenna and immediately felt in your gut. The thinking brain is relatively late to pick up on what’s going on. You turn and look in response to the feeling, not the other way around. Cascades of hormonal release follow.
Some people believe that fascial stretching can even assist with muscle growth. There are no consistent research studies that directly support muscle fascia helping muscle growth. It is currently predominantly based on indirect scientific studies, anatomy, and anecdotal evidence. The theory was instigated by people who used to have muscle or excessive fat, who found it easier to put muscle back on, some call this muscle memory.

Other supporting evidence is that bodybuilders who spot inject site enhancement oil or ‘Synthol’ get improved results from fascia stretching. This is where oil is injected into a muscle in order to bring up a lagging muscle. Many people assume that the oil is causing temporary muscle gain, but based on user experience it appears to cause actual long term muscle gain as the result of stretching the muscle fascia. Many pro-bodybuilders, such as Olympia winners Jay Cutler and Arnold Schwarzenegger, do forms of weighted fascia stretching as part of their workouts.
So will muscle fascia stretching automatically grow muscle? No. You will still need to train hard and increase intake of nutrients accordingly. The muscle fascia tissue is stretched which allows the opportunity of muscle growth to happen. If you don’t stimulate it by exercising, you won’t notice any gains.
A new wave of thinking around more productive training methods suggest there are better ways to get the results people are in pursuit of. The days of over-loading on heavy gym sessions in a military style fashion seem to be on the wane. The philosophy behind a more fruitful work out regime is based on the body’s natural response system. The body works in two constant nervous system states; the sympathetic ‘fight, flight, freeze’ mode, and the parasympathetic ‘rest and digest’ mode. Many people continuously live in the sympathetic state meaning the body is unable to relax and switch to the parasympathetic mode. By constantly keeping our bodies in the sympathetic mode we overload it with stress; living under a continual high level of threat and hyper vigilance which leads us to over train, experience gut difficulties, restrictions in sensory output and constant pressure. This stress irritates our muscular, fascial and nervous systems and prepares them for fight or flight. Fight and flight are very linear in their needs and have no necessity for rotation or free, relaxed movement.  Each mode focuses on the muscle groups it has most demand for physically; flight mode, which typically occurs when you feel under threat causes issues in the lower body, fight mode usually arises from situations when you believe you are right and can win, it causes tension in the upper body as these muscles tend to be primed for action. In freeze mode we’re inclined towards procrastination, where joints and muscles tend to lock and compress.
Fascial stretching, mobility, diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing, yoga, meditation and sensory clearing are eminent ways of removing sub conscious threat and restoring the body and mind to a parasympathetic mode, which allows the body to rebuild as the brain is able to predict its environment and respond rather than react to any potential threat.
There are different methods currently in practise for fascial stretching.
Rolfing is a therapy system created by the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration, founded by Ida Pauline Rolf in 1971. The Institute states that Rolfing is a "holistic system of soft tissue manipulation and movement education that organises the whole body in gravity". Rolfing is essentially identical to Structural Integration, whereby manipulation of the muscle fasciae is believed to yield therapeutic benefits, including that clients stand straighter, gain height and move better, through the correction of soft tissue fixations or dystonia.
Rolfers have a keen interest in the body’s amazing layers of connective tissue, which wrap, relate, and interpenetrate all of the other tissues of our human form.
Skeletal muscles often work in opposing pairs called the "agonist" and the "antagonist", the one contracting while the other relaxes. Rolf theorised that "bound up" fasciae (connective tissues) often restrict opposing muscles from functioning in concert. She aimed to separate the fibers of bound up fasciae manually to loosen them and allow effective movement.
Rolfers often prescribe movements during a Rolfing Structural Integration session. The Rolfer manipulates the fascia until it can operate in conjunction with the muscles in a "normal" fashion.
The overall concept of fascia limiting and permitting functionality is receiving more investigation. In late 2007 the first "Fascia Research Congress" was held and attracted attention from researchers and clinicians.
Within the Structural Integration community, Robert Schleip questions Rolf's emphasis on the plasticity of fasciae, and suggests that successes may have more to do with the reduction of high muscle tonus and other physiological effects that may as easily be elicited by the stimulation of mechano-sensory receptors in the fascial tissues.
The MELT Method is a self-treatment technique intended to eliminate chronic pain, heal injury, and erase the signs of aging and negative effects of active lifestyle. This revolutionary approach to pain-free fitness and longevity is created by Sue Hitzmann, a renowned somatic-movement educator and manual therapist. Hitzmann uses this technique to obliterate pain, stress, and dysfunction in her clients. MELT has been reviewed by international experts and is recognised as founded in scientific principles providing extraordinary benefits.
MELT works by finding the missing link to pain-free living: a balanced nervous system and healthy connective tissues. Because of the daily physical, emotional, mental, and environmental stressors, tension gets literally stuck in the body’s connective tissue surrounding every joint, nerve, muscle, bone, and organ. When left unattended, the trapped stress will result to connective tissue dehydration and cellular damage, thus leading to several issues beginning with aches and stiffness to neck pain, back pain, headache, insomnia, indigestion, and injury.
Understanding this link between the nervous system and connective tissue, MELT revitalises tissue hydration and relieves daily tension that are trapped in the body by directly treating the connective tissue. Employing simple and specialised equipment such as soft body rollers and small balls, the program rehydrates the connective tissue, decreases accumulated stress in the nervous system, and improves overall health. For only a few minutes a day, you can start getting lasting results. You will notice changes in posture, flexibility, mood, energy, and performance in just a few sessions.
The MELT method consists of 4 techniques – reconnecting, rebalancing, rehydrating, and releasing.
Through these techniques the body de-stresses, heightening the body’s sense and enabling it to connect with the mind. Diaphragmic breathing rebalances the body to prevent and reduce body pain and maintain optimum organ function. Rehydrating techniques revive the connective tissue hydration and ease tension fixed in the body. Releasing enables the discharge of compression in the joints that causes chronic pain, inflammation and discomfort.
Known benefits of the MELT method are improved flexibility and mobility, posture, range of motion, sleep and digestion, results of exercise, and total well-being. It reduces aches and pains, tension, risk of injury, and aging effects such as wrinkles and cellulites.
What if we can’t stretch fascia….?

Much of manual therapy has grown largely out of anecdotal experience and tradition. Without the means to directly observe or measure what happened inside of the body, explanations for results had to be created from external sources and have largely been guesswork. As manual therapy has moved forward, an interest in understanding exactly how touch affects the body has led to a growing interest in research. With research has come the realisation that many explanations of the past are not supported by evidence and are sometimes contradicted by evidence. Science-minded manual therapists have learned to adapt to this information, dropping outdated hypotheses and unsupported claims. While some have found it disconcerting to have cherished notions disproved, others have embraced knowledge and have adapted their conceptual models to fit what is known. They may continue to use modalities that have produced desired results but their understanding of how that comes about changes to fit the evidence.

Such a change is happening in the field of “fascial” therapy.

When Rolf began her groundbreaking work in manual therapy, she devised a hypothesis in an attempt to explain how changes created by her contact came about. However, in recent years, evidence has challenged those explanations. Robert Schleip, Ph.D., was one of the key organisers of the first Fascia Research Congress and is a highly respected researcher. He is credited with discovering minute contractile fibers in fascia, a discovery whose clinical relevance has not yet been demonstrated but still excited many in the world of fascial therapy just the same. In his two-part article, “Fascial Plasticity: a new neurobiological explanation,” published in 2003 in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, Schleip points to studies which contradict the notion that we can change the shape of fascia with our hands. One study found that collagen fibers would only begin to stretch shortly before they reached the breaking point, something that would not be desirable in a living human being. In other studies, Schleip, Trager, and others have done Rolfing under anesthesia and found that it produced no results. If the application of manual pressure had the ability to stretch fascia, there should have been a change in spite of anesthesia blocking any neural response. Why, then, was there no change when anesthesia took the nervous system out of the picture?
A neurobiological explanation for this is that if we aren’t stretching fascia, then how do we account for the “release” felt by both the practitioner and the subject? Schleip and others have suggested that the change in tonus is not achieved by an alteration in the shape of fascia but is instead controlled by the nervous system. Schleip suggests that one possible mechanism of change brought about by sustained manual pressure could be the Ruffini corpuscles.

Why Ruffini corpuscles? Clinically, we observe that applying a slow, extended stretch to the skin can create desirable changes both locally and centrally, decreasing tension in the area where the hands are applied as well as creating an overall sense of relaxation. Ruffini corpuscles respond to lateral skin stretch, which is, stretching the skin tangentially or along the same plane as the tissue below. They are slow-adapting, meaning that they continue firing for as long as the stretch is sustained, unlike some mechanoreceptors which respond briefly to new stimulation and then stop responding if it continues.

We know that when we apply our hands to the skin of the body, we stimulate mechanoreceptors. Impulses are sent through the sensory nerves to the brain. The brain evaluates and responds, sending out impulses of its own through nerves to various parts of the body, causing changes to occur in the diameter of blood vessels, breathing, muscle tonus. If it likes our touch, it can create the changes we associate with relaxation, release of tension, and can decrease the sensation of pain. If it feels threatened by our touch, it will do the opposite. Manual therapists are always trying to create changes that make the body feel at ease, achieving this through the nervous system.

The nervous system is constantly monitoring its environment, responding to a complex array of input. It would be naive and simplistic to think that response to our touch could be reduced to one set of mechanoreceptors or to ignore all the other countless factors. However, when examining the kind of manual therapy we have come to think of as "fascial," understanding the role of Ruffini corpuscles is a good place to start?

Why does this it matter whether we believe we are stretching fascia or not? It matters that we think accurate thoughts about how the body works and what effect touch has on the body. Therapists may still use their hands in ways that they have before. If those methods work to achieve its goal, there is no need to abandon them. However, we want to know that how we think about what we are doing is accurate and we want to be able to communicate honestly. If we discover that our conceptual model is contradicted by what is known about how the body works, then it is time to adapt our model so that our thinking is in agreement with new evidence.
My conclusion…

I had an hour’s therapy session of fascial release. There are arguments for and against whether fascial stretching works, whether it is fact ‘fascial stretching’, and whether there is anything to gain by it.
What we know is that fascia is a plastic like material that surrounds your muscles and other soft tissues. The fascia's rubber band like qualities returns your body to an original position after being elongated. What occurs during fascial release is that we continue to elongate the fascia thinning the excessive build up freeing the body to move optimally, this is then absorbed by the circulatory system and cleaned by your lymphatic system, later to be eliminated by urination, sweating, and defecation.
Fascia has several very unusual, and until recently, unknown properties:
·         All past traumas are stored in the fascia. These traumas literally warp the natural form of the fascia, and deform it, thus holding the person into the damaged position. When the fascia is released, the memories of those events surface and are brought to light so as to finally release the person from being held in the past.

·         Most health professionals have largely ignored the fascia.

·         Fascia has no nervous innervation. It is not connected to your brain and therefore produces no sensation when being worked on. You can detect its existence by using your hand to feel this taut tissue beneath your skin. An important thing to note is that you create thousands of pounds of forces when you resist while stretching while having little to no feeling of those forces. This is easily explained by the fact that fascia has no wiring from the brain to it - unlike muscles or tendons, which are wired from your brain thus allowing you to feel them easily.

·         There is no innervation of fascia, so there is no sensation when it is being affected.

·         Fascia has tremendous tensile strength compared to muscular strength. Scar tissue has exponential tensile strength compared to the fascia. Dense fascia can have tensile strength that is 2-8 X's the strength of the muscle it surrounds. Normal amounts of fascia are around 2 X's and dense fascia up to 8 X's the resistive force of the muscles strength.
It's All About the Fascia:
·         Fascia is the most energy efficient material in the body. For example, when your bicep contracts and shortens, your triceps’ fascia is stretched, and when your bicep stops contracting, you triceps does not need to contract to bring your arm back to the starting position because the fascia acts like a rubber band and simply springs you back.

·         Excessive repetitive movements or trauma dramatically increases the density or mass of the fascia resulting in significant impairment to movement, circulation, lymphatic flow, and substitution movements. It holds you into the damaged position, and limits your ability to move out of that position and holds the bones in limited and unnatural relationships. This damage or trauma situation now requires enormous amounts of energy to move instead of efficient movements.

·         Chronic pain is most often resulting from an accumulation of excessive dense fascia and scar tissue.

·         Traditional stretching methods that do not use resistance while stretching unfortunately produce more fascia and scar tissue. Animals naturally resist while stretching.

·         Olympic coaches have described assisted fascial stretching as the most intense workout they have ever experienced. The reasons for this include: the enormous amount of force that is being generated by the fascia, the concentration necessary to participate in the 'surgery like' resistance stretching process, the significant recovery/healing that follows, the psychological education and processing that is necessary from the changes, and the perspective and life upgrades that occur as a result of freeing the person from their past.
As we are unaware of the tautness or resistance in our fascia, we are oblivious to its impact not only on our routine movements, but the influence it has on any training sessions. By releasing dense fascia we allow our muscles to move freely, develop correctly, increase biomechanical efficiency and allow normal bone movement and joint rotation. This allows our bodies to work more efficiently, negating the preconceived need to over training; resulting in a quicker, more positive outcome.
Coming up in Part 2: Stretching and the benefit of mobilisation and free movement…

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