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Monday, 2 January 2012

December Reading - Fascial Release

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My book for December's reading was Fascial Release for Structural Balance by James Earls & Thomas Myers. Tom Myers is well known to me because of his work with integrative structural therapy. His book Anatomy Trains should be in every massage and soft tissue therapists library. This months book is also worthy of a place in the library. James Earls studied with Tom Myers and also follows the anatomy trains approach to bodywork, something we incorporate in our work too. Knowing the authors credentials alone gave me confidence that my book for the month was going to be a good read.

As with Tim's book choice, this is one which I have dipped in on numerous occasions. The bulk of the book is made up of chapters corresponding to individual areas of the body - a review of anatomy and a look at relevant techniques and concepts of fascial release that are applicable. In the introduction the authors are keen to note that the body is not made up on separate and isolated components. Comparing the body to a car is an oft used analogy, but humans are not the same - we cannot simply take out a muscle when injured and replace it like a broken spark plug. There are much wider reaching implications for damage to one part of the body, and it is those connections - through the fascial webbing which pervades all of our body - which Earls & Myers explore in this text.  Paraphrasing them, the reality of human anatomy is that we have one muscle poured into 600 (or so) pockets of fascial webbing - the distinctions between muscles are useful, but the reductive process shouldn't block the reality of the unifying and connected whole.

Key messages I will take from this book (some of which reinforce reading from other sources):
  • Fascial webbing that pervades our bodies has been building, refolding and remodelling since the foetus was 2 weeks old - it remains constant (ever present) and changing (adapting) throughout all our life.
  • Everything is a compromise - the stability vs mobility balance is always being played out in our body.
  • Congestion and mechanical strain often affects the body in distant parts - because the fascial web is altered.
  • Fascia is contractile*.
  • Tensegrity** is key; "The body is designed to distribute strain globally, not focus it locally".
  • The fascial system is a repository for chronic issues because of its ability to accept change slowly and retain the changes it makes. Chronic tension because of inappropriate fascial shortness can lead to trigger points, fascial thickening and compensation patterns throughout the body.
  • Fascial tissue deforms because of injury, abuse, misuse or disuse - but because of its plasticity it can be reformed with manual therapy, stretching and awareness (such as changing postural habits).
* Until recently it was thought that only muscles contracted but it is now known that myofibroblasts exert a force on the fascia causing contractions. Not as quick to respond as muscles (perhaps 20mins), fascia does however retain the contraction for hours - leading to sustained mechanical tension and postural changes.

** A word on tensegrity - engineers build houses and structures to withstand forces applied to them, just as the body does - but, the body is able to maintain its structure when, for example, held upside down or when pressure it exerted on one area.  Through deforming one part of the body small amounts of deformation are felt throughout the body, and a tensegrity model can demonstration this. An amazing Christmas present was given to me this year which allows me to demonstrate this to our clients:

No tension applied
Tension applied by right hand
The two photos above aim to demonstrate what happens when there is tension applied to one area of the tensegrity model. The right hand is pulling on a cord at the top, and you can imagine this is a tight muscle, tendon or area of restricted fascia within the body. On a quick glance you will notice that the whole structure has become deformed, squashed and distorted a little if you like. On closer inspection you will see that there are changes visible throughout the model. As one example, take the yellow node held in the left hand - it forms a triangle with a blue node above and another out of sight node; see how that triangle has altered in size. So while the cord at the top of the model is being pulled it has affected this distant area, just as fascial restrictions in for example the calf can affect the hip, lower back or elsewhere. It is difficult to demonstrate a 3D model with a photograph, but I hope you can see the basic idea behind strain being applied globally, not just locally. It is this principle which we apply in our massage and remedial treatments.

I will be continuing to read this book over the coming months - there are six chapters on the different body areas (foot & lower leg; knee & thigh; hip; abdomen, thorax & breathing; spine; and shoulder & arm). There is good guidance on postural assessment and clear diagrams on various anatomical structures - so don't be surprised if I show you this book (or the tensegrity model) when you come for a treatment. It really is a good tool for all manual therapists who are keen to educate their clients and give them the best possible treatment and home care advice.

Lynne Taylor

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