Myofascial release works with sustained, often quite gentle pressure into myofascial restrictions in order to re-mobilize the tissue and eliminate pain.
Fascial stretches are usually held for a minimum of three minutes. It takes that long for the fascia to transform from its typical solid state to a more hydrated mobile liquid matrix. As the practitioner holds the stretch, he listens through his hands for subtle barriers, felt as resistance. Hold the client at these resistance points until a release is felt. For the client, the sensation of deep fascial work can be a burn reminiscent of a Charlie horse, but hopefully milder and more pleasurable. This work can also be done in an incredibly gentle manner that feels more energetic than mechanical. Work done in this way will often trigger the parasympathetic nervous system and send the client into a deeply restful and rejuvenative state.
Fascia is made of both fibers and interfibrillar jelly. The fibers resist tensile pulls and the jelly resists compressive forces. “Tendons, which are specialized for pulling, contain mainly fibers. Cartilage, which often acts as a shock absorber at the end of bony structures, contains much water-rich gel (Barnes, 1988).” Thus, while much of myofascial release involves traction that realigns the fibers along the lines of pull, it is also sometimes useful to create light compression into the joints to reliquify the gel.
Working on the fascial level asks for sensitivity and attention to subtlety. The practitioner should cultivate a trust in the intelligence of her own tissues and practice combining informed anatomical information with the ability to get out of the way. When the joint awareness of two intelligent systems intending towards alignment, the healing capacity of each is amplified and deep unwinding can take place.
Rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, edema, hypersensitivity of the skin, open wounds and fractures are some contra-indications for myofascial release.
This technique can be useful for patients experiencing dysfunction in the fingers, wrist, elbow, shoulder, and even cervical or thoracic spine. It is especially effective for people who work manually on computers, playing instruments, doing massage, or driving.
The therapist creates a slight external rotation in the arm of the supine client and provides gentle traction. The practitioner may choose to take the arm into abduction and up over the client’s head, sensing for barriers along the way and waiting for them to melt. This move can be taken into a spiral turning of the patient with a stabilizing traction on the medial border of the scapula.
This technique involves a stretching of the fascia, usually along the lines of use. The practitioner crosses his hands and provides oppositional directional input into the subcutaneous layers of the fascia. After a few minutes of stretching these tissues, they may start to feel unwinding under their hands. They should allow this unwinding and follow it as it moves. This simple following is enough. It will unlock the body’s own intelligence and the tissues will move towards higher function.
Sometimes I approach this unwinding more as a facilitated dance. In a context of listening, the therapist may offer some additional suggestions that the system may be blind to. The body will follow the new opportunities provided by this suggestion or it won’t. As a practitioner I continue to listen and adjust my communication based on what I hear. This kind of stretching can be approached on the mechanical level or on a gentle energetic level.
A variation of this technique I use often to open up the connection between the head and the thoracic cage. This is especially effective for clients with a forward head and caved shoulders. Traction the head away from the body with a hand under the occiput and give inferior traction through the subcutaneous fascia of the chest.
Transverse Diaphragm Holds
A diaphragm is any muscle or group of muscles that runs in a lateral (or transverse) plane across the body. This includes the respiratory diaphragm, but also diaphragms at the pelvic floor, the thoracic inlet, and at the level of the hyoids in the throat, (Sills, p. 223).
The technique is incredibly simple. One hand is placed at the level of the diaphragm on the anterior of the body and the other is placed on the posterior. The practitioner thinks of the area between the hands as a water balloon, fluid and responsive. Wait while the attention and warmth of the hands penetrates the tissue. Follow the unwinding as you listen with your hands and body.