Myofascial Techniques and Tools

June 2016 -

The term myofascial has been used a lot over the past few years. Fascia is a form of connective tissue that has an appearance similar to a spider's web or a net. It covers and penetrates almost all structures within our body including muscles, bones, organs, and even the brain. As well, nerves and blood vessels can travel within it. Myofascia, more specifically, covers and penetrates muscle tissue. It is continuous so if one part of the fascial line is affected it can alter how the body moves at another end of the line. Many fascial lines start at the feet and end at the head.

Over the past few years I have learned more about how to exercise fascia in order to alter movement patterns, improve flexibility, and decrease pain. My experience as a Kinesiologist, Pilates Teacher, Yoga Instructor, Fascial Fitness Instructor, AIS (Active Isolated Stretching) and STR (Soft Tissue Release) Therapist have allowed me to make observations and experience the effects of exercise and manual therapies on how bodies move and feel. I have discovered that people can have varied responses to the same exercises and manual techniques. Their experiences are often influenced by past injuries, emotions, fear of pain/re-injury, body type (stiff vs flexible, stalky vs slight), certain conditions (circulatory, neurological, chronic pain, auto immune, etc.) and general health status (balanced diet, dehydrated, sleep deprived, chronic stress).

Factors That Affect Fascia

  1. Physical – scar tissue, previous surgeries/injuries
  2. Emotional – stress, fear, anxiety, anger, depression
  3. Physical Activity- various types of exercise/sports
  4. Occupation- what we do all day
  5. General Strength Levels
  6. Age
  7. Gender
  8. Genetics/Body Type
  9. Conditions – parkinson’s, arthritis, cerebral palsy, MS, muscular dystrophy, etc.

Some general techniques when trying to influence fascia that I have found helpful include:

1. Vary the size of the ball/roller or stick used for manual release techniques. Use a smaller ball for areas such as the shoulders, neck, hips, feet, calves, and forearms. Spiky balls can often be helpful to get deeper into more specific areas. Larger, firmer devices such as foam rollers, travel rollers, and sticks may be more appropriate for larger areas like the front thighs and upper back.

2. Vary the density of the object used for manual release techniques. The density of the ball or roller may vary according to the area of the body targeted. Softer devices may be moreappropriate for more sensitive areas such as the shin, neck, shoulder blade/upper back and lowback. Individual sensitivities will vary also according to their injury history, particular conditions and/or emotional state. Fascia houses more nerve endings than muscles so it tends to be more responsive and sensitive.

3. Use longer larger continuous motions for manually releasing larger areas such as thighs, upper back, and shins.

4. Incorporate smaller, more specific motions when manually releasing smaller areas such as the calf, shoulder blades, shoulders, chest, neck, hips, forearms or feet.

5. Add direction changes such as side to side, up and down, and circulation motions when manually releasing the body with balls, rollers, or sticks.

6. Manually release an area before stretching it.  It helps with circulation and hydration in order to allow for a smoother, more enjoyable stretch.

7. Avoid releasing manually or stretching to the point of extreme pain. This can cause more harm than good. Sensation should be slightly uncomfortable, but not unbearable.

8. Avoid stretching or rolling areas that have been recently injured, infected or if osteoporotic.

9. Incorporate activities that involve moving in multiple directions such as Tai Chi, Yoga, Pilates, Dance, Martial arts, etc.

10. Practice varying the surface you walk/run on as well as the speed you move to exercise your fascia.

In summary, fascia, particularly myofascial, prefers varied surfaces, movement directions, speeds, pressure, and resistance. Our emotional state, environment, jobs, sports/activities and health contribute the health of our fascia. So, whether you are an athlete looking to improve performance, enhance recovery, prevent injury, or are recovering from a chronic injury or pain, working your fascia has great benefits to creating a body that is healthy, resilient, and moves with ease.

For more information on myofascial release techniques visit our Kinesiologists at Kelowna Kinesiology or come to our exclusive Zenga Class which applies yoga, pilates, myofascial release, and stretching techniques.

Lise Dallien MacMillan, BSc. Kin., C. Ped (C) 

Practicing Kinesiologist, Certified Pedorthist Canada