You’ve probably heard the word “fascia” before. In my experience, a lot of my clients don’t know what it is exactly and why massage therapists work on it. It’s a mysterious buzzword we hear a lot. Let’s clear the fog around this concept by explaining the what, how and the why about fascia.
So what is fascia? Fascia is a thin cellular connective tissue system in the body, similar to spider webs. There are different types of fascia in the body that all serve a different purpose. Superficial fascia provides energy from fat stored, provides protection for the skin, provides a passage for nerves, blood vessels and lymphatic vessels as well as thermal insulation. Deep fascia compartmentalizes body cavities, muscle shapes and attachments while providing protection for underlying tissue and organs. Deep fascia also shares the protection function of nerves and blood with superficial fascia. Visceral fascia allows movement of organs and passage and circulation of fluid.
So how do we know if we need fascial work? There are many indications- let’s go through the symptoms (note if any of these resonate for you):
Chronic pain, tension or heaviness feeling
Loss of range of motion
Not being able to keep good posture
Uncomfortable change in gait (walking)
Unmoving or traumatized tissue
Uncomfortable holding patterns
How do we go about relieving these symptoms? Myofascial massage! This modality can provide real long lasting tissue change by freeing fascial restrictions, elongating shortened muscle fibers, unwinding adhesions and increasing mobility to inflexible structures. Myofascial massage uses slow, gentle, mindful and exploratory techniques with subtle and incremental pressure, making it an ideal therapy for clients who are unable or unwilling to undergo more vigorous techniques. Additionally, people who are recovering from accidents, surgery, emotional trauma and those who prefer a more intuitive approach can all enjoy myofascial work.
So why myofascial massage instead of Swedish or Deep Tissue? The major difference between myofascial massage and foundational massage (Swedish, deep tissue etc) is that, in myofascial massage, the therapist has to be very focused, centered and patient, and must slow down to “listen” to the tissues. Additionally, this modality requires a change in the therapist’s concept of massage application. In foundational massage, tissue engagement tends to be more rhythmical in pressure, lighter at first, then going deeper, returning to lighter and transitioning out of the tissue. With myofascial massage, the tissue engagement needs to be held steady on a singular horizontal plane, accompanied by patience to hold steady engagement, allowing time for the process of thixotropy -the fascial thinning- to take place.
During the myofascial technique application it may seem like nothing is happening on the receiver’s end, and might not have the same immediate gratification of foundational massage. I refer to this as a “feel better later” massage. After receiving myofascial massage, give it 24 hours and 1-3 more sessions, and you will really start to feel the effects- decreased chronic pain and tension, increased range of motion, improved posture, and easier movement- all as a result of the fascial unwinding you receive during myofascial massage.
Rielle Gordon, LMT – Seattle Massage Oasis