Among the many health benefits of massage is one that will surprise the novice: the ability to manipulate fascia. Fascia are body components located between the skin and the underlying muscle. It’s here that inflammation and injuries can produce damage that can be encouraged to heal by a good massage.
The fascia form a system of connective tissue that covers muscles, organs and skeletal components. As such, working on one area often has effects that are carried over a farther distance. Working fascia has effects not only laterally, but down as well. Since they cover the muscles, pressing on them presses down and out simultaneously.
To better picture this, imagine a sheet drawn tightly over a bed. That sheet (fascia) covers the mattress (muscle). When you press down at one point with a finger, you don’t just create an indentation the size and shape of your finger that goes straight down. It tends to create a shape resembling an upside-down tent.
That’s the result of the sheet being flexible, but attached all around the rim under the mattress, particularly at the four corners where the tension is greatest. A similar effect occurs with fascia. Since it is a web that runs throughout the system, pressing it affects those areas to a greater or lesser degree.
Using the knuckles or elbows, moderate pressure is applied to the fascia, through the skin. Moving slowly, using a technique called direct myofascial release, the practitioner works through the layers, finally reaching the deep tissue. One popular variation is the so-called ‘Rolfing’ technique, developed by Dr. Ida Rolf in the 1950s.
Placing a line of tension that takes up the slack in tissue, the fascia are moved across the surface. It’s important here to seek client feedback since the technique can be painful if improperly carried out, or if the recipient has injuries or sensitivities.
Employing indirect fascia release can alleviate some of this concern. The pressure is less, a larger surface area (such as the heel of the palm) is used and more time is allowed for the fascia to react. One result is more heat created within the tissue, which helps stimulate blood flow. That circulation brings fresh blood to the tissues and carries away toxins.
Whenever muscles are manipulated in massage, the fascia are always involved, since they cover the entire area. Keeping sustained pressure over time is key to utilizing the technique safely and effectively.
Both direct and indirect fascia release grow out of the world of physical therapy. As such, it requires some training and practice in order to use properly. A client’s health is always uppermost and, like physicians, massage therapists need to adopt and adapt a portion of the Hippocratic oath. ‘First, do no harm.’