What is fascia? Fascia are sheets and webs of connective tissues that cover each of our muscles and keep them intact. Fascia operates like scaffolding for muscles, holding them in place, giving them shape, and reducing friction when they slide over or under one another.
Pound for pound, fascia is stronger than steel. Made from the same material as tendons and ligaments, it does not contract or relax the way a muscle does. However, it can tighten around muscles that are under duress. If a muscle is traumatized by an accident or activity-related injury, fascia can tear – and leave a troublesome scar behind that restricts muscle expansion, the body’s range of motion, and the performance of other surrounding muscles. In addition to high-impact injuries, a registered massage therapist will encounter everyday factors like poor posture or aging that take their toll on fascia – it’s not surprising that it plays an essential role in therapeutic massage.
Massage therapy training prepares students with a variety of techniques for facilitating fascial release. When restrictions are alleviated, tissues, muscles and joints move better and pain is reduced. Fascial therapy involves stretching the connective tissue – actually altering its consistency. MTs begin by assessing restrictions and then applying force where it is needed. In some cases they may use a cross-hand technique, stretching the fascia in opposite directions - combining sustained pressure and stretching to decrease pain and increase range of motion. Or, they may focus on easing trigger points and adhesions to enhance flexibility.
Although post-surgery, athletic injury, and accident victims are obvious candidates for fascial therapy, pretty much anyone can benefit from the treatment. Many MTs incorporate fascial therapy into their regular massage approaches with general techniques, and use more directed methods to address areas of specific concern. Repetitive movement strains are often treated with fascial therapy, because continually asking a muscle to contract, consciously or subconsciously, can cause tissue to become stressed, resulting in restrictions over time.
Massage courses often stress the importance of developing treatment plans with patients – listening carefully to their observations, taking the time to explain key terms, and letting them know what to expect during manual therapy sessions. It’s quite possible that your client has never heard of fascia, or the integral role it plays in our musculoskeletal system. It’s important to explain how fascia works, and that treatment can help ease pain and increase range of motion. Steve Jurch, director of massage therapy for the US Women’s Tennis Association says he often uses an analogy to explain fascia to patients. He compares it to a T-shirt fresh out of the dryer – it’s usually a bit tight to begin with, and needs some stretching to fit comfortably.
How would you define the importance of fascial therapy in your practice?