Although the fascial system has been being studied for well over 50 years, it has recently been getting allot of attention in both the medical and fitness world. As a physical therapist who practices myofascial release, I thought I would shed some light on this amazing system.
John Barnes, a physical therapist and pioneer in the treatment of the fascial system has many times described the fascial system as the information superhighway of the body. I have the honor to call him my teacher over the past 8 years. He has trained thousands of therapists in his technique and continues to teach throughout the world. I have great gratitude for his wisdom and guidance.
At its root, the facial system is the primary communication system of the body. As John has said,” people have been calling fascia an insulator all these years, but it’s really more like fiber optics. As with any communication system, how well the transmission lines work is a key component to the system’s health.” This idea of a living, breathing, fluid system in the body that allows information to pass to all other systems within the body is what makes treating the system the key to long lasting results. Long ignored by many traditional treatments, it is the missing link in the body’s ability to heal and change.
The fascia is uninterrupted connective tissue, that is web like in appearance, and surrounds every part of our bodies down to the smallest cell. This means that all of our nerves, organs, muscles, blood vessels, lymph nodes are surrounded and embedded in the fascia. The fascia envelopes what is called ground substance, that when well is like jello, loose free to move but with some structure. Cells, organs, nerves can move freely in this system, shock can be absorbed and dissipated, information can flow from one area to the next and movement is free. The web like fascial system creates tiny interstitial spaces between cells. These spaces are so important as they create the space and structure within our bodies, the space is where communication happens, and is responsible for support, protection, metabolism and nutrition, all at a cellular level.
Fascial restrictions are the result of injury, trauma, surgery, overactive inflammatory response, muscle imbalances due to postural stresses. When these restrictions occur in the body these spaces are compressed together. The ground substance becomes cement like. The normal water like environment (ground substance) that cells, nerves and organs live in becomes more cement like. This creates restrictions that can exert 2000psi of pressure per square inch. John has described this as the weight of 2 full grown horses standing on nerves and other sensitive structure in the body resulting in pain, poor cellular efficiency and even disease. Once the ground substance is solidified the cell begins to die, they can not breathe or get the nutrition they needs to survive. By working on the fascial system with a skilled therapist, the fascial system begins to “unwind’ itself and free itself of the restrictions, the cells the ground substance begins to loosen and return to its normal jello like state. Once the restrictions are freed the cells can rehydrate, the crushing pressure is removed, and then “our body becomes capable of healing itself.”
Recent studies are linking the cellular environment to health of the cell in terms of cancer. Studies have found that cells living in a thick cement like environment start to turn into cancerous cells compared to those same cells living in a fluid like free environment and thrive.
Self help techniques for home such as foam rolling, work on the body with small balls of varying density, and myofascial stretching techniques are an integral part of the treatment plan. As no two bodies are alike there is no one size fits all to these techniques. What does remain constant is the need to hold gentle pressure for 3 to 5 minutes, it is in the hold that the fascia can start to release and allow you to move into deeper levels of the system. It is in the hold that the body begins to change and heal itself.
If you have been experiencing pain, restricted motion, have had a recent injury or surgery, consider finding a therapist trained in the John Barnes Approach. It is a through a thorough evaluation that your unique needs are identified and treated to restore the health to your fascial system and optimize your overall health and wellbeing.
Barbara Franzino is a physical therapist trained in the John Barnes approach. Her office is in Fairfield CT.