This guest blog post is written by Brian Abelson, DC.
You can obtain amazing results by integrating “Specific customized” fascial release procedures into any of your current techniques.
To get a better understanding of why fascia is so important let us first consider the many roles of fascia. Fascia plays a critical role in communication, in maintaining a memory of our body’s history, and acting as both a tensional network and as a living matrix.
We all know that our nervous system is our body’s communication system. Now, research has now show that the body’s fascial network contains ten times the number of sensory nerve receptors as those that innervate muscle. This includes many different types of sensory receptors, including both myelinated proprioceptive endings (Golgi, Paccini, and Ruffini), as well as un-myelinated free nerve endings. This knowledge has transformed our perceptions of fascia from being a static packaging material into a realization that, when you consider the incredible number of nerve receptors, that the fascia is the body’s most important perceptual organ. (1,2,3)
Our fascial network is like a written history of our life! Every injury or physical force that we experience transmits mechanical forces throughout the body. Over time, these forces eventually produce transcriptional (RNA) changes in the body, which in turn produce changes in our fascial architecture. These changes can cause imbalances, adhesion formation, thickening, or decreases in mobility. This is amazing since we are literally talking about how mechanical forces initiate transcription – the process of making an RNA copy of a gene sequence,(4) and producing corresponding proteins – based on the physical history of the body. As practitioners, who use our hands to evaluate the affected tissues, fascia is capable of providing us with a massive amount of information – which we can then translate into appropriate and effective treatments for our patients.
Fascia is often defined as “one interconnected tensional network that adapts its fiber arrangement and density according to local tensional demands.”(5) When fascial tension is in good balance, fascia acts to distribute force throughout the body, and allows us to store and release energy for propulsion. When fascial tension is out-of-balance, hypertensive, or restricted, fascia can become the source of various dysfunctions.
Fascia is far from a simple arrangement of packing material surrounding our internal organs. Instead, fascia is a living matrix that surrounds, supports, and penetrates every muscle, tendon, ligaments, bone, joint, cardiovascular, and neurological structure in the body.
Fascia is a dynamic web that maintains tension for force transmission, shock absorption, and communication. In reality, your fascial network is the ultimate physical manifestation of a kinetic chain. These functions are intimately related to the cells that are contained within the fascia.(6)
Although individual cells form just a small portion of the entire volume of fascial material, certain cells play very important roles in the architectural design, repair, and setting of fascial tension. These dynamic cells are called fibroblasts.
Fibroblasts are important because they form the foundation of the fascial system. Fibroblasts are dynamic cells that (within moments) can change in length when fascial tissue lengthens under compressive loads. What is amazing about fibroblasts is that they don’t just change in shape, but they also have the ability to turn into another type of cell known as myofibroblasts.
Myofibroblasts have the ability to contract, and have a direct influence on fascial tension, which in turn influences force transmission, energy storage, and communication. The contractibility of myofibroblasts is four-times stronger than that of regular fibroblasts.(7)
Myofibroblasts are formed when mechanical strain increases in the body. This could be as a result of injury, repetitive stress, muscle imbalances, or even a lack of physical activity. Myofibroblasts play both positive and negative roles. For example, myofibroblasts serve an important role in wound healing, but they are also involved in fascial contractures and scar-tissue formation in conditions such as Frozen Shoulder or Dupuytren’s contracture. 7
This is where it gets interesting! Researchers have long speculated about an association between increased myofascial tension systemically and chronic states of anxiety (increased sympathetic nervous system activity). However, researchers initially did not understand the relationship that myofibroblasts have on increasing fascial tension and dysfunction. Now research has demonstrated that there is indeed a link between myofibroblasts, the sympathetic nervous system, and small proteins known as cytokines.(8)
The correlation between the sympathetic nervous system and myofibroblasts is an interesting one. Initially, researchers hypothesized that increased levels of myofibroblast contraction was related to sympathetic neurotransmitters (epinephrine, adrenaline, and acetylcholine) but later this was found not to be true. What researchers did find was that the cytokine TGF-B1 (produced during increased sympathetic activity (stress), was the connecting factor. TGF-B1 results in a very high level of myofibroblastic contraction, which leads to increased myofascial tension and related dysfunctions. (7,9)
This is really important from a practitioner’s perspective. It means that by bringing the fascial system into balance, we could have a positive systemic effect on myofibroblast activity. Which in turn could decrease overall myofascial tension. For example, by performing procedures such as the MSR™ Diaphragmatic Release (combined with appropriate breathing exercises) we could quickly see a decrease in overall sympathetic nervous system activity. Treatments that integrate this perspective could provide considerable relief for the many patients who suffer from chronic pain and a host of stress-related conditions.
At the beginning of this article I mentioned integrating “Specific customized” fascial release procedures into your current techniques. To do this you must start thinking about the body as a single, integrated, functional unit – one that works in synergy with all its other components.
Cookbook procedures do not address the reality of a body that functions as one synergistic unit. Fascia is tightly integrated into every part of your body, it is dynamic, and forms a web as individual as you are. This is why “specific customized” procedures must be developed for each individual. This does not mean that standard treatment protocols need to be eliminated. Instead it means that in order to reach the highest level of success in treating musculoskeletal dysfunction, we will often need to become more clinically creative.
Our MSR program has been designed to tap into that clinical creativity. Our Whole-Body Motion Specific Release Certification Program starts out by teaching over 40 basic procedures. Even at this basic level we start engaging your clinical creativity, each of these techniques involve multiple structures (6 to 10 anatomical structures). These basic procedures build on a foundation of diverse evidence-based, musculoskeletal techniques, and our own innovative ideas.
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