On the subject of oft-used but seldom-understood massage terms, fascia is definitely a front runner. It’s taught in basic A&P and referred to by well-meaning massage therapists to varying degrees of success all across the globe. But what is it in basic, lay-person terms and why is it important within the context of a massage?
I was reading an article a couple of weeks back where a specialist in science and anatomy was getting a professional massage because he’s a big fan of massage and finds it very effective. During the treatment the therapist started going on about fascia. Big mistake. He asked her what fascia was and she dropped the proverbial ball saying (and I paraphrase here) that it was “stuff that was good for you”. His point was that he was not there to catch her out on anatomical pedantics – he was there to enjoy a relaxing massage, end of. And, sometimes, that’s all clients want.
However, there are clients who do want to know why an area is sore or what’s going on in general and that’s when the term ‘fascia’ can pop up. In a nutshell, fascia is thin but strong fibrous, connective tissue that covers and supports all the structures of your body: your organs, muscles, nerves, blood vessels and cells of your body – it’s all over the place! Fascia can be deep, connective or superficial and is made up of collagen which binds our bits together and/or allows said bits to move around and over each other easier (liken it to a sock covering your foot and how it helps your foot move around in a shoe without any damage or discomfort). It’s fabulous stuff and we couldn’t exist without it but it gets so little press compared with the muscles or organs – even though they would be nothing without it. Look at a piece of pork loin or a leg of lamb or a slab of beef – that thin, white covering surrounding it is fascia and it holds the muscle (and muscle groups) together. Skin a piece of chicken and underneath the yellow skin, you’ll find the same white layer of tissue, which is basically facia covering the meat of the muscle and holding the skin onto it. Like muscle, fascia can be damaged by trauma – be it an accident, infection or day-to-day bad habits (poor posture, sedentary lifestyle etc) and can become sore and contracted, limiting it’s blood flow therefore exacerbating the problem. So, enter stage left ‘myofascial release’, which are techniques used to stretch and release tension in the fascia, often involving deep pressure through the use of the therapist’s knuckles, elbows etc. I am particularly interested in these techniques as many therapists have commented on how effective the Kneader is at myofascial release. You can get very deep and even pressure with the tool, which is a total win-win situation. The person being massaged gets instant relief (at least that is the feedback I constantly hear) and the person using the Kneader doesn’t have to strain bits of their body in the process because the Kneader takes the strain – not them. Happy fascia means happy muscles and, overall, happy body so it’s worth looking into. Here is a really short and simple YouTube presentation by Dr Aaron LeBauer on fascia – it’s under 3 mins and very worthwhile. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qaDldYuvZ3o