Part 2 of a Series
In Part 1 of this series, I explained some aspects of how I developed the principles underlying my myofascial release approach: how I had entered physical therapy school because of my fascination, as an athlete, with the mind-body complex, then was saddened to discover they had no interest in mind-body awareness.
I also went to physical therapy school in an effort to resolve the back pain that was debilitating my life. Let me take you back in time to the day of my injury—the day my life changed.
My debilitating injury
I was a very good athlete when I was younger. I played football, ran track, went skiing, rode motorcycles and was involved in competitive karate and power lifting. In a blinding flash, at the age of 19, all of those things I loved were taken from me.
I had gone to the gym to work out with weights, because I was getting ready for an upcoming power lifting competition. There was no one else in the gym. I proceeded to do bench presses and shoulder work, then went on to squats. No one was there to spot me.
I was doing high-repetition squats, holding more than 300 pounds, when I exhausted my muscles to the point where I couldn’t get up. I needed help.
I had been a gymnast when I was younger, so I thought I could do a back roll to get myself out of my dilemma—but when you have a 300-pound bar in your hands, your hands won’t let go, so I crashed into the ground with enormous force into my sacrum and lumbar area.
I lay there stunned; I couldn’t move my legs. My body was numb from the waist down.
Then, slowly, the numbness wore off—and horrible pain began. Eventually, I managed to move my legs, but I knew, in that instant, everything I loved, motion and competition, was taken from me. In an instant, my life changed.
Living in pain
Life became a struggle. For the next 11 years, I coped with pain on a daily basis. At age 30, I realized I was in worse shape than most of my physical therapy clients. I could only sit for a few minutes, and most of my activities were limited. Physical therapy, massage therapy and any form of exercise did not help; instead, they only aggravated the pain. I tried every type of therapy to no avail; I got nothing but temporary results.
Then a radiologist friend invited me to his ski house for a weekend, though I couldn’t even sit or move well, much less ski. He recognized the trouble I was in, and told me about a friend who was an orthopedic surgeon. He recommended I see him and check out whether or not I needed back surgery.
I went to see the orthopedic surgeon, and learned I had herniated the disc at L5 and ruptured several ligaments in the lumbosacral area. I decided to have a spinal fusion.
After my surgery, as the surgeon was walking out the door of my hospital room, he turned and said, “Oh, by the way, just don’t flex or extend your spine for the rest of your life.”
I lay there in shock. Isn’t that something the surgeon should have told me before I made a decision to have surgery?
The spinal surgery did reduce the intensity of the pain and helped me move a little better, but I still hurt a lot and definitely couldn’t move the way I used to.
That was the point when I realized nobody was going to help me but me.
Pushing through the pain
Out of total desperation, I called upon my intuition to help me, and was guided to lie on my living room floor and push into the areas that were painful or felt hard. I continued to do this, but I was still very strong and was attempting to force my way through areas of tightness. While that helped for a short period, the results didn’t last very long.
Eventually, my intuition suggested I ease up a bit. I learned to be gentler, and realized that if I spent more time at each restriction I got far superior results that lasted much longer. Over a period of time, I made a dramatic turnaround. I could move again and breathe easier, and my pain was substantially reduced.
As I continued to treat myself, I started to have interesting sensations that went far beyond the origin and insertion of muscle. I started to recognize that as I applied slow, prolonged pressure into painful areas, I must be dealing with the fascial system.
I had access to the library at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, so I decided to go over to see what they knew about connective tissue. I found a stack of information on fascia about 10 inches thick. On top of that stack was a pile of dust about three inches thick, so I don’t think it had been touched in decades.
The founder of osteopathy, Andrew Still, M.D., D.O., had some amazing insights into the fascial system, but I think he was burdened with what I call the old form of myofascial release, which is an attempt to force a system that can’t be forced.
I realized that due to my dramatic and inspiring recovery, I was on to something important. I felt I had to share this with my fellow therapists and clients. I started to apply the principles I had successfully utilized myself. My clients’ responses were immediate and profound.
Teaching the John F. Barnes Approach
I’ve had the opportunity to teach more than 100,000 therapists and physicians who now utilize my technique, The John F. Barnes Myofascial Release Approach, on millions of patients a month, and have been doing so safely for decades. As with any success, copycat courses have sprung up, but many are, unfortunately, still teaching that old form of myofascial release, the attempt to force a system that can’t be forced, which will only produce temporary results.
My approach to myofascial release is very different, utilizing biomechanical and fluid dynamics, and recognizing the importance of the ground substance of the fascial system. The art of myofascial release is to find the fascial restriction and hold it for a sustained period of time, which allows some important phenomena to occur: piezoelectricity, mechanotransduction, phase transition and eventually resonance, another word for release. Some other forms of bodywork and massage therapy are performed too quickly to elicit these phenomena that are critical to healing. (I will describe each phenomenon in future articles.)
Over the years, I learned much from my clients and have slowly developed my seminars utilizing my approach to myofascial release, which is safe and consistently effective in reducing pain, headaches and tightness; and increasing range of motion. My approach is easily learned and represents a missing link in massage, bodywork and energy work.
In Part 3 of this article series, I will describe how I developed my myofascial release seminars.
John F. Barnes, P.T., L.M.T., N.C.T.M.B., is an international lecturer, author and acknowledged expert in the area of Myofascial Release. He has instructed more than 100,000 therapists worldwide in his myofascial release approach, and he is the author of Myofascial Release: The Search for Excellence (Rehabilitation Services Inc., 1990) and Healing Ancient Wounds: The Renegade’s Wisdom (Myofascial Release Treatment Centers & Seminars, 2000). He is on the council of advisors of the American Back Society; he is also a member of the American Physical Therapy Association. For more information, visit myofascialrelease.com.
For more information about myofascial release, access two excerpts from the Fireside Chat with John F. Barnes, PT DVD on YouTube:
To connect with John F. Barnes on Facebook, visit facebook.com/myofascial.release.
Neither the author/s nor MASSAGE Magazine assumes responsibility for the application of any technique. Readers must ensure they have completed the training necessary to safely and effectively perform any technique mentioned on massagemag.com.