I believe various attempts to deal with the fascial system via soft-tissue mobilization, connective-tissue massage, cranial work and unwinding have probably been around since the beginning of mankind. But from what I have read and seen, these modalities were applied regionally or symptomatically or too quickly, roughly and/or mechanically. In other words, the above were an attempt to force a system that cannot be forced. It was painful to the client and hard on the therapist, yielding only temporary results.
As I gained experience with the myofascial system, I found it responded quite differently than what I expected, based on what I learned from research on fascia. The research, which had focused on the three-dimensional web of fascia in dead people, basically stated you cannot release the three-dimensional web of fascia. I agree; the normal boundaries of the fascial system cannot be altered except surgically or from enormous force or trauma.
What had been overlooked in the research was the importance of the ground substance and the crosslinks that can develop at the nodal points where the fascia glides upon itself. Restrictions develop from trauma, surgery, thwarted inflammatory responses and poor habitual posture over time. Releases occur within the natural boundaries of the fascial system.
Only a portion of the fascial system had been studied, and it was as if the scientific mind did not understand there was a huge difference between studying a telephone pole and a living tree. My experience was different from what I learned in school and from studying research on the fascial system. Our model of reality is deepening and expanding with the help of new electron microscopes and sophisticated scientific techniques.
Science is in the middle of a deep-seated revolution. When you look at evidence that the mind is not confined to the skull, you automatically expand the horizons of research. Many people are now realizing ways in which we have been limited by these assumptions of science.
My approach to myofascial release is directed at changing the viscosity of the ground substance and releasing the crosslinks that lie within the natural boundaries in the fascial system. My daily experience demonstrated clearly that the myofascial system was moldable within its natural boundaries. It seems full of consciousness, awareness, emotions, memories and life.
It appears the ground substance tends to lose fluidity when it goes through trauma or an inflammatory response; in other words, it tends to solidify. It is what I equate to pouring glue or cement into the interstitial spaces. It is this dehydration of the tissue, with the accompanying development of crosslinks at the nodal points, that can put enormous and excessive pressure upon pain-sensitive structures and limit the fascial system’s ability to glide. This enormous pressure, approximately 2,000 pounds per square inch, can produce the symptoms of pain, headaches, fibromyalgia and limitations in motion. Remember, myofascial restrictions do not show up in standard tests (X-rays, CAT scans, myelograms, EMGs), so myofascial restrictions are being completely missed or misdiagnosed.
I stopped trying to force the system that could not be forced. I stopped sliding over the restriction. I slowed down and waited for the restrictions to release. I let the inherent motions of the mind-body (unwinding) to occur, and allowed patients to express their thoughts, insights, emotions and memories. The results and potential for healing moved into a consistency and a higher dimension that was significant. This deserves your serious attention. I firmly believe that the appreciation of these expanded and refined concepts and principles allow our clients—and ourselves—to accomplish true, authentic healing.
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 50,000 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 counsel of Advisors of the American Back Society; he is also on MASSAGE Magazine’s Editorial Advisory Board; and is a member of the American Physical Therapy Association. For more information, visit www.myofascialrelease.com.
For more information about myofascial release, you can now access two separate excerpts from the Fireside Chat with John F. Barnes, PT DVD on YouTube. Just click on the following links:
To find John F. Barnes on Facebook, click on the following link: www.facebook.com/myofascial.release.