Long, static myofascial releases held for at least five minutes or more during bodywork will create longer-lasting, more permanent results—and creating those kinds of results for clients is something we all want. Are you ready to change up your approach and add a myofascial technique that will help you give a better massage, and be a game changer for you and your clients?
Myofascial technique practitioners might be falling short when it comes to creating lasting change in the myofascial tissue. Research, some of which will be detailed in this article, is showing a minimum of three to five minutes of a combination of continuous pressure and stretch is required to create elongation in the fascia.
Most techniques taught in massage, physical therapy and chiropractic schools, and other health care programs does not address the most important component of the body for health and wellness: the fascia. The short, quick, sometimes aggressive techniques that are taught do not positively affect this three-dimensional web of tissue; therefore, those techniques don’t yield more than temporary results.
It’s time to break out of the box of what we learned in school, especially when it comes to this important structure of our mind-body complex.
What the Research Says
Here’s what Carol Davis, D.P.T., Ed.D., who is professor emerita at the University of Miami Department of Physical Therapy and a John F. Barnes Myofascial Release physical therapist, said about why it’s important to use a myofascial technique over a standard massage technique:
“The effects of sustaining pressure for three to five minutes or more are being researched by Paul Standley and associates at the University of Arizona in Phoenix, with regard to the release of healing messenger cells—cytokines—by way of the release of interleukins after a certain time frame. After three minutes there is an increased release of interleukin 8 (anti-inflammatory), interleukin 3 (white blood cell formation) and interleukin 1b (nitric oxide, vasodilation) which all impact tissue recovery and healing.”
Davis goes on to talk about another reason to hold your pressure/stretch longer:
“The second reason we want to hold for five or more minutes has to do with biotensegrity, and the effects of the electrons and photons coming out of our hands, and our energy resonating with the energy of the patient. As our hands sink down after 90 to 120 seconds, we start to feel the movement of the fascia as it unwinds under our hands. This is the moment of resonance, where our energy wave and the patient’s energy wave come together, and our energy is coursing throughout the entire fascial web, along the microtubules down to the nucleus of the cells. Biotensegrity can be further explained in the work of Donald Ingber.”
Gerald Pollack, Ph.D., professor of bioengineering at University of Washington, Seattle, said that a feeling akin to butter melting or taffy stretching signals a literal softening or melting of the polysaccharide ground substance of the extracellular matrix. You can read about this in-depth in Alfred Pischinger’s The Extracellular Matrix and Ground Regulation: Basis for a Holistic Biological Medicine (North Atlantic Books, 2007).
In other words, unless you hold your pressure/stretch long enough at the fascial barrier, you will not affect the tissue at a physiologic level—not enough to make a change.
For Better Massage, Use Sustained Pressure
Tight, restricted bodies will rehydrate, elongate and release with this kind of sustained-pressure technique, which helps to increase range of motion and decrease pain. If our hands glide, slide or slip quickly across the body without engaging the fascial system, the body does not have enough time for that physiologic response to happen.
Practitioners of The John F. Barnes’ Myofascial Release Approach are taught to hold their pressure for at least five minutes. Slowing down and connecting with clients in this way also creates a practice of awareness, for both practitioner and client—and with awareness, we set the stage for healing.
The practitioner, grounded, centered and focused in this way, is able to hold a healing space and facilitate awareness and healing in the client. This creates a safe, nourishing environment for bodywork and results in better massage.
Involve the Client
Different techniques yield different results, so it’s always a great idea to experiment with what works for your client. Try a long-hold release and ask your client what he feels.
Any healing modality or technique is more effective when your clients are awake and aware inside of their bodies. Ask them to engage and feel what’s happening. Teach them how to use that sensation for their own healing. Slowing down your technique enough for a physiologic elongation and release of the fascial tissue will be one effective and powerful way to do just that.
Laura Probert is the owner of Brave Healer Productions, a holistic physical therapist and writer, and holds a tae kwon do black belt. She helps health professionals create practices that feed their souls and change the world. She loves dogs and dark chocolate. Probert also wrote “Avoid Burnout: Make YOU Your Top Priority” for massagemag.com.