Enlighten: awareness and unraveling of the connective tissue matrix.
“The inner postural attitude is reflected in the outer posture and this in turn effects our entire fascial system and being. The patterns we take on are a shape of their perception of themselves, as well as the way they move through the world” Ida Rolf
Self Myo-fascial release (SMR for short) or “rolling” is becoming popular due to pioneers like Jill Miller from Yoga Tune up. (if you don’t have a copy of her book: Roll Model I highly recommend purchasing one). I love rolling as it empowers individuals to take control over their health and wellness. It is a relatively cheap, easy and effective self care technique that can be incorporated into most peoples days. The balls allow us to explore our “blind-spots” those areas in the body that get stuck, trapped and hidden as a result of stress, chronic tension, overuse, underuse, injury and our posture and lifestyle habits. As we bring light to our otherwise unconscious ways of acting and reacting in our bodies we can begin to unravel from the inside out, transforming the way we show up in our bodies and life. These techniques have been shown to increase mood, immunity and sleep while decreasing stress, tension and pain.
We are thrilled once again to be offering a 25 HR weekend course called, The Matrix: Fascia, Movement and Self Myo-fascial release (SMR) January 27th-29th in Edmonton Alberta. For the month of January #therapythursday posts will provide short peeks and techniques offered in the full Enlighten self myo-fascial release video available for purchase here.
Another benefit of SMR is it brings awareness to our habit and compensation patterns and once we become aware of how much tension we are holding in a particular area, we can become more mindful of specific postures or activities that may be contributing to this tension.
What is Fascia?
Fascia is a dense connective tissue that encases, divides, supports and connects every muscle, bone, nerve, artery and vein as well as all of the internal organs. It exists from your head to your toes in one continuous structure like a spider’s web. Essentially fascia is the living fabric that holds us together. Because Fascia connects everything in the body you can think of this network as a fibre optic, or information superhighway where messages (transmitted via tensile forces) travel instantly from one part of the body to another. Fascial plasticity, health and integrity plays an important role in our overall health and wellness and is paramount to injury prevention, suppleness in the body and effective movement.
Layers of Fascia
- Superficial fascia: is found directly underneath the skin. It stores fat (this is where the appearance of cellulite comes from) and water (subcutaneous swelling) and acts as a passageway for lymph ducts (immune system), nerves (sensory perception and movement) and blood vessels (how we get nutrients and oxygen to all our individual cells).
- Deep Fascia: The tissue that covers and permeates the muscles, bones, nerves and blood vessels of the body. Deep fascia also has the ability to tense up in response to stress and trauma. This tension provides strength and stability during the “fight, flight or freeze” response. I explain this response in more detail in my book: Empowered Body and in addition will be writing a blog about “stress” next month.
- Visceral Fascia: Visceral fascia is the innermost or deepest layer. It basically holds the organs in their cavities
Movement and Fascia
During movement, you can think of the fascial system as working similar to a marionette (remember those old school puppets with multiple strings that create movements of various body parts?), where all the various forces applied pull on the different “strings” within the body and coordinate specific movement. An older model usually breaks movements down into individual muscled pulling on the bones via their tendons to create movements and while this is still true bringing the fascial matrix into the picture provides a more accurate representation of movement and how like a spider web any “knots” or injuries in any line affects the entire system. Because the muscles, bones and organs are all layered and all move in different directions, they must be able to easily slide and glide over each other in order to create fluid movements. Surgery, injuries, overuse, inflammation and habitual movements such as poor posture cause the fascia to become stiff and sticky. Stiff, sticky fascia creates tension, restricted movement and pain.
Trigger points can be defined as “areas of muscle that are painful to palpation and are characterized by the presence of knots”. (Borg-Stein & Stein. 1996) Trigger points may also be accompanied by inflammation, causing supple fascia to become dehydrated like beef jerky. This dehydration interrupts the flow of nutrients, immune cells and nerves to the tissues. In addition trigger points put strain on the surrounding tissues within the myofascial meridians. Trigger points also alter the mobility in our joints resulting in reduced proprioception and imbalanced joint space. Eventually, the neuromuscular system becomes compromised, leading to chronic pain, injury and compensation patterns all over the body.
The plasticity and pliability of our fascia is related to the quantity and quality of collagen and elastin fibers, the consistency of the ground substance and the hydration of the tissue. Many factors influence this, like our diet, our posture and movement habits and the level of mechanical stress and mental/emotional stress in our lives.
Ways to improve Fascial Health
- Nutritious movement (exploring different ranges and angles) Both over use and underuse contribute to fascial strain.
- Massage, Rolfing and other body work
Self Myo-fascial release
SMR uses various tools such as balls and foam rollers to massage various parts of the body. It has been proposed by many that sustained low pressure with the balls into myo- fascial restrictions allows the connective tissue fibres to reorganize themselves in a more flexible and functional fashion, restoring flow and communication in the tissues. While the research is still inconclusive about SMR’s ability to re-organize connective tissue, rolling has been shown to profound ability to alter our experience of pain and discomfort through neurophysiological responses even though it may not cause significant structural changes. (Cheatham, Lee, Cain, & Baker., 2016)
When rolling on the balls or rollers, you are not just massaging the myofascia; all the other cells—nerve, muscle, and epithelia (skin)—are also getting massaged. In these tissues, the water is pressed and moved through the pressure from the balls and then is sucked back in when the pressure is taken away, which allows the tissues to become more hydrated. You can think of the fascial layers similar to an orange or grapefruit. When you roll a grapefruit under your hand, you are breaking up the walls and increasing the flow of the fluid that is trapped. Fascial work may have a similar effect, leaving our juices more free to flow to the drier areas of our body.
It has also been shown in research that SMR may also be effective in enhancing joint range of motion, pre and post exercise muscle performance and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). (Cheatham, Kolber, Cain, & Lee., 2015) ( Škarabot, Beardsley, & Štirn., 2015)
The gentle pressure from the balls stimulates the mechanoreceptors in the fascia; these receptors sense tension and position and relay the information back through the spinal loop via the central nervous system, which in return creates a relaxation e ect in the tissues. e mechanoreceptors can also double as nociceptors (pain receptors), and there- fore tight or bound fascia increases pain and decreases proprioception. You may have noticed that when an area of the body is injured or in pain, you also feel clumsier. It is important that the rolling is not painful, because if it is painful it triggers the stress response in the body and causes muscle contraction and cellular retraction.
Success Tips for SMR
- Explore the entire body, all the nooks and crannies. We cannot take care of the places we do not touch; they are called blind spots for a reason.
- Go slow—the mechanoreceptors we are looking to stimulate respond to slow, sustained pressure. Take your time. When you locate a trigger point stay for a while, take some deep breaths and make micro movements with the ball or your body.
- Breathe. Taking deep breaths stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which allows the myofascia to relax.
- Avoid pain—if there is an area that is extremely painful try using less pressure or moving just above, below, or beside to a surround- ing area. Pain will trigger the sympathetic nervous system, which will create more guarding and tension. Make sure your balls or rollers are soft and pliable; use more weight if you need more pres- sure. Using hard tools and too much weight can cause damage.
- Small consistent sessions are better than infrequent longer sessions.
Cheatham, Lee, Cain, & Baker, (2016). The eficacy of instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization: a systematic review. The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association, 60(3), 200–211 )
Cheatham, Kolber, Cain, Lee. The effects of Self-Myofascial release using a foam roller or roller mas- sager on joint range of motion, muscle recovery and improved performance. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2015 Nov;10(6):827-38.
Škarabot, Beardsley, & Štirn, (2015) .Comparing the effects of Self-Myofascial release with stretching on ankle range of motion in adolescent athletes. . International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 10(2), 203–212
Borg-Stein, J., & Stein, J. (1996). Trigger Points And Tender Points. Rheumatic Disease Clinics of North America, 22(2), 305-322. doi:10.1016/s0889-857x(05)70274-x