Massage for Fascia: Does fascia release?

We are going to start a little backward here. We are going to talk about what fascia is NOT. And going please know there is A LOT of confusion out there about this bit of anatomy.

The role of fascia is STRUCTURAL. By definition, it is not alive. I want to get that out of the way right at the top.

That fact may come as a shock to many of you, but please keep reading. 

Fascia has also been called a sensory organ, but again if we look at the definition of an organ, it doesn’t fit. Many of the articles on the internet use the “organ” designation for the WOW factor and then go on to explain deeper in the text how it isn’t one.

As for the sensory part…that’s all nerves.

It’s frustrating and it’s weird. Especially, when you are a therapist trying to get a straight answer.

For reference, it is a bit like calling your bones and organ. They’re both connective tissue. 

So is blood.

I don’t think we would call blood an organ, so I’m not sure why fascia needs that label either. 

So what is so important about fascia and how do we apply it to massage and other manual therapies?

Fascia is a winding structure that is embedded with several types of “message generators” that flow and burrow through its layers and transitions. 

There are stretch receptors (muscle spindles), pressure sensing corpuscles (Ruffini and Pacini), tension sensors (Golgi tendon organ endings) and free nerve endings running throughout the fascia.

The magic of fascia is found in the nerves that burrow through it.   

Sadly, many clinicians (and clients) get caught up with trying to “fix” it. 

1.) Therapists want to stretch it (which you can’t).

2.) Therapists want to melt it (insert eye roll). 

3.) Worst of all therapists want to break it down (not gonna happen). 

Let’s pause for a moment and think about why you would ever want to melt or breakdown a highly innervated tissue? What possible benefit could that serve? 

The answer is none. It serves no benefit. 

Some therapists justify crazy treatments based on the beliefs mentioned above. Gua-sha (scraping), “way too deep” tissue, old versions of rolfing, and structural integration.

Even if massage could break fascia down, why would we want to?

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I SEE TREES, BUT NOT THE FOREST

I am an anatomy nerd, so I get hung up on the parts and pieces just like you probably do. I was this way with psoas for far too long (and then it was the paraspinal muscles). 

If I just press here, I can stop that back pain.

If I find that one trigger point, I can stop this headache.

I played bodies like some weird version of anatomical battleship.

We do not interact with one muscle. One tendon. Or one nerve. Nothing exists in isolation in the body. Don’t forget that we are working WITH a person. And that person, at a fundamental level, is made out of neurons.

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DON’T BLAME A STRUCTURE

Many clinicians want to BLAME fascia for causing pain and dysfunction. They will explain that overuse, underuse, bad posture, weird posture, dehydration, etc has led to fascial dysfunctions. 

All of that is misguided and puts the individual at odds with their own body. This is the same with trigger points and muscle tightness. Your body is not out to get you, even though it can feel that way.

Fascia is not a villain.

Through the nerves found in the fascia, we can send messages of safety, support, modulation, and pleasure. It can help us better interact with the MIND and the BODY of the person in front of us.

In massage, physical therapy, and other hands-on modalities we often get hung up on the bricks and mortar of the building. When we should be focusing on the switches and wiring. 

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THE BODY SENSE

The receptors in our fascia play an integral role in proprioception. This is the “sixth sense” you may have never learned about. Proprioception allows us to know where our bodies and limbs are in physical space. 

These receptors also exist in muscles and other tissues. So proprioception is a shared responsibility across more than one piece of anatomy. 

Whenever we move our bodies, mechanoreceptors deform and activate, sending afferent information to the spinal cord and brain. These messages are sent to our central nervous system, where they are translated, interpreted, layered with emotions, and finally perceived.

Efferent signals are then sent to our muscles (and other organs) and generally move us toward or away from a stimulus (this is a very basic breakdown). 

This conversation happens quickly and constantly. It makes things like walking, running, and dancing possible. It also plays a part in fine motor operations like handwriting.

Interestingly, proprioception (also pain, and muscle tightness) can be inhibited by something as simple as a glass of wine. Proprioception can also be destroyed entirely by disease processes that damage the peripheral nervous system.

This makes it so that a person cannot move unless they can physically see the body part they want to move. If their eyes are closed, they completely lose track of where their limbs are. It is a fascinating and horrifying condition.

The nerves in superficial fascia may be the perfect pathway to help us modulate muscle tightness, interferes with pain, and disrupt other “messages” coming from noisy tissue. 

Remember that pain and tightness are not physical things. They are perceptions generated by the brain when it is fed signals from the peripheral nervous system. This does not mean those sensations aren’t real, it simply means you have more control over them than you have been led to believe.

If you take nothing else away from this deep dive, let it be that last sentence.

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NUTS AND BOLTS

Structurally fascia is an everywhere tissue. It loops and flows like a Mobius strip from superficial to deep to visceral layers. It attaches, stabilizes, encloses, and separates muscles and internal organs from one another. 

A simple analogy is to think of it as a plastic wrap (with the elasticity but without the plastic deformation).  

Fascia is made up of fibrous connective tissue containing closely packed bundles of collagen fibers oriented in a wavy pattern that usually runs parallel to the direction of pull. 

The material of fascia itself is exuded by fibroblasts. And in case you don’t know a fibroblast is a cell that synthesizes the extracellular matrix and collagen. It’s a goo making machine! 

Fascia is has a natural level of flexibility and give, but it is not to the degree that you may have been taught. Fascia is less like a bungee cord and more like the rubber of a car tire.

Fascia is INCREDIBLY STRONG. And because it is a support structure it is also highly resistant to change.

Despite common myths and misconceptions, it does not stretch. It does not melt. And it cannot be broken down or reorganized by hand (or with tools).

I know many of you are cringing right now. You were taught that fascia melts, deforms, and can be broken-down/reorganized. It can get bound up, cause adhesions, be glued together by spontaneous forming scar tissue.

This simply isn’t true.

I’m going to implore you to use critical thinking here and be skeptical with me for a few minutes.

If fascia could be melted by hand, what would happen to you when you took a hot bath or sat in a sauna? What about a hot summer day?

What if it could be broken down by brute force? What would happen when a powerlifter picked up 600 pounds. Think of all the force and tension on their skin, hands, and joints (all with fascia flowing through and around them). 

Can any therapist generate 600 pounds of force with their hands? And if the underlying tissue is changing wouldn’t the skin also be permanently changed too.

What would you say if I told you that fascial layers are nearly is frictionless? Because they are. One layer slides easily over the other. This frictionless surface makes it so muscles can slide over each other easily even though they simultaneously bound tightly together in groups.

Now imagine trying to change the structure of a car tire with vaseline on your hands. That’s the barrier some therapists say they can overcome with their bare hands.

If you need a clinically relevant example of fascia not changing have a look at compartment syndrome. Fascia won’t even fail when it would benefit you. It has to be cut apart.

And now for my personal favorite, scar tissue. Yes, it’s a real thing. But why in the world would you think you could break it down? I’m going to give you hulk-like strength and unleash you on a hapless client.

Your muscles bulge and the collagen fibers begin to shear apart. The nerves at the border of the scar tissue begin to stretch and this causes them to fire. Eventually, the nerves fail and tear, but not before they send plenty of feedback to the brain. 

Blood vessels rupture and cells burst open as you break down the scar tissue. This cellular spillage releases cytokines and the inflammation process begins to kick in. White blood cells show roll in and begin the cleanup process. Then fibroblasts return and repair the area with a lattice collagen fibers.

Also, known as scar tissue.

This phenomenon is an issue even in SURGICAL revisions that are designed to de-scar an area. They go in and perform a literal surgical strike on the bound up layers. The joint is moving freely, healing is initiated, and low and behold, the body rebuilds the area with scar tissue.

This is an important area where we need to know our limitations and be part of the reeducation of the clients we encounter. 

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CLOSING

I’m hopeful that you will dig into this topic for yourself, but please be wary of things that sound too good to be true or don’t jive with current anatomical knowledge. 

I can comfortably say that if your reading doesn’t stress the importance of the nervous system it is likely out of date. If you are finding information that is less focused on “issues in tissues” and more focused on the whole person, you are on the right track. If there is mention of the biopsychosocial (BPS) framework…it might be pure gold. 

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Further Reading and References:

Selley’s Anatomy and Physiology, 3D4 Medical Complete Anatomy, Dermoneuro Modulation by Diana Jacobs

Fascia Science Review

https://www.painscience.com/articles/does-fascia-matter.php

Fascia Myths

Video Link: Lost Proprioception 

Fascia as a Sense Organ

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/319182467_FASCIA_AS_A_SENSORY_ORGAN_Clinical_Applications

Proprioception

Oncology Massage: A Secret Weapon

Can Massage cure Cancer?

No. Let me say that again. NO.

Unequivocally, absolutely, hell to the no (just in case anyone missed it).

There are unscrupulous providers out there of all types that will try to sell you all kinds of “CURES” for cancer. These people are idiots, they’re immoral, and you should avoid anyone that promises anything of the sort.

Be wary of anyone selling “cancer cures”.

Can Massage Spread Cancer?

No, massage cannot induce metastasis (spreading) of cancer cells.

This ability happens at the cellular level. The DNA of the affected cells evolves and the cancer develops the ability to spread. This fact is also why early screening and early detection is vital.

This misinformation is often repeated by massage therapists which is unfortunate because it can keep people with cancer getting a treatment that can be very beneficial.

Don’t take our word for it though, please have a look at this information from BreastCancer.org and the National Institutes of Health. If you have more questions speak to your oncologist or email us for more information.

How CAN massage help you?

Oncology massage is a version of manual therapy that adapts traditional massage techniques to your specific case. Oncology massage factors in how the cancer is presenting, how it’s being treated, and MOST IMPORTANTLY how it is affecting you.

Cancer is a disease that impacts everyone differently. The only constant is the need for routine self-care. Cancer causes massive stress on the body and that’s even before treatment begins. Once you add in treatments like radiation and chemotherapy the need for “you” time is even more pronounced.

Stress is universal among cancer patients. There’s the obvious worrying about the outcome, but that is often compounded by suddenly having your normal life transformed into being all about the cancer.

massage can help with stress
Massage plays a pivotal role in stress reduction during cancer treatment.



Then there are the changes in your family and friends. Some may become hyper helpful, others may withdrawal because they don’t know what to say or do. Then you have the treatment side effects, which can vary from mild to pure hell. And finally, there are many changes that cannot be foreseen.

These unknown, unknowns, maybe the most stressful part of your whole ordeal!

You can see how quickly the stress can mount. Stress can turn to anxiety and anxiety can lead to depression. None of which puts your body in a place for fighting and recovery.

Breaking the Stress Cycle

At SCI Body Therapy, our oncology massage sessions aim to help stop that cycle both during your appointment and at home. We will help you build a toolbox that you can have available between sessions that will help navigate the complex changes that can get in the way of getting better.

Stress and anxiety directly interfere with the bodies ability to deal with physical stresses. Stress also undermines the bodies natural healing processes. This can increase recovery times from treatment which as you may know are already pretty rough.

Oncology massage can reduce the side effects of cancer treatments like radiation.
Massage may help with the side effects of Radiation Therapy.

Oncology massage also has documented benefits when it comes to pain relief and addressing many of the issues that can arise from the cancer or from the treatments. These include nausea, nerve damage (neuropathy), scarring, and/or swelling (lymphedema).

Many of our oncology clients use their sessions as rewards or goalposts for getting through each section of treatment. Massage feels good and it makes you feel good! That alone may be reason enough to come see us.

Massage Near Me

SCI Body Therapy is located inside FIT by Hyland Hills on the Northeast side of 120th and Federal. Our address is 2861 West 120th Avenue, Massage Suite, Westminster, CO 80234

We provide medical massage and bodywork for pain and injury rehabilitation. SCI Body Therapy is the only massage clinic in Westminster, CO and Broomfield, CO that specializes in the treatment of pain.

That means that if you live in north Denver that you have access to a team of massage therapists that use medical massage to help fix low back pain, rotator cuff issues, shoulder pain, disc herniation, runners knee, IT band issues and many other “chronic” conditions. For more information see our article on How massage can Help Pain.

“Massage near me” is subjective and only limited by how badly you want the problem fixed.

SCI Body Therapy
Massage in Westminster, CO SCI Body Therapy Map
Are you in Westminster, CO? Then we are definitely massage that’s near you!

SCI Body Therapy was purposely set up to provide medical massage for Thornton, Northglenn, Westminster, and Broomfield. However we have clients who come see us all the way from Fort Collins and Centennial.

Which, if you’ve driven I-25, you know what a compliment that is!

These clients make the drive because they cannot find this type of massage work close by. They tried the big box massage places and found them to be heavy on the fluff and light on the actual problem solving.

And those places are great if you want to relax, but we think massage should be more than a really expensive nap. If you have a specific problem or are dealing with an injury that hasn’t responded to other treatments it might be time to give medical massage a try.

“Massage near me” might mean something different to everyone and no matter where YOU are we hope you will give us a chance to get you back to doing what you love. We hope you are right down the street, but if you’re not we hope you will consider making the drive to us.

If you need more convincing you should check out our reviews on Google.

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Chiropractic: The Bones of It

Chiropractic is a system of manual manipulation that focuses on the idea that the bones of the spine can be manipulated in such a way that it can effect changes in the body. These changes are generally aimed at musculoskeletal pain issues. The more obscure and pseudoscientific division posits that chiropractic care can address systemic problems (i.e., asthma, cancer, erectile dysfunction, and mental disorders).

The Origin Story:

Chiropractic as a profession began in 1895 with a man named Daniel Palmer. Palmer was interested in metaphysics and electromagnetic healing practices. His foray into manual therapy originated when Palmer noticed that the spine of a deaf janitor seemed to be “out of place.” Palmer adjusted the man’s spine and claimed to restore the man’s hearing. Spinal manipulation was not an unknown treatment at the time, but Palmer was the first to develop an organized system and techniques to standardize the practice.

How does Chiropractic work?

This is somewhat complicated and does not have a clear answer. Currently, there are two (or more) camps of Chiropractic treatment.

The Palmer camp believes bones can become misaligned and cause an energetic blockage. Correcting these off-kilter joints with high-velocity compressions would allow energy to flow more freely and let the body heal itself from within. It also happens to produce a satisfying popping sound.

However, none of this is supported by evidence and the “energy” he referred to has no basis in biology.

This thought process is often expanded to allow chiropractic to “treat” illnesses like erectile dysfunction, infectious diseases, and some practitioners go as far as to say they can correct mental disorders.

None of those claims is backed by research and even anecdotal evidence is hard to find.

The other camp is more skeptical and is focused on the anatomy of the nervous system and what happens when a joint, ligament, tendon, or bone is cavitated (popped). They focus on the interaction with the nervous system and generally stick to treating pain and nerve complaints.

This camp has also proven to be far more helpful to their patients and have both research and evidence to back up their more modest claims.

What does a typical session with a Chiropractor look like?

This varies a lot by practice. The average session seems to be about 30 minutes long and may or may not include x-rays, a comprehensive health history, and/or sit-down consultation.

There are now stop-and-pop shops that do adjustments in 20 minutes for 29.95 and are owned by Massage Envy. On the flip side, also known as the side that is not doing so well, some independent practitioners offer an integrative approach.

I am generally a poo-pooer of Chiropractic care. I believe they are undereducated and have earned the position of the most distrusted medical profession by implementing pushy sales tactics and questionable patient care. There’s also the ever-present issue of them abusing insurance which you can you read more about at ChiroBase.

Generally, you will not be in for a finite amount of treatment when you go to a chiropractor. In fact, you may not even get a clear treatment plan from some of them.

Despite railing against the traditional medical community for pushing procedures and pills, you will find many Chiropractors sell blocks of treatments. You may also find yourself being shmoozed to purchase supplements that are unregulated and often made specifically for the chiro’s practice.

I don’t support any unwarranted treatment, but in Chiropractic you WILL be getting multiple procedures. And with many, you will be getting multiple sets of x-rays to “prove” the treatments are working. Not only are these dubious, but they also expose you to unneeded doses of radiation.

What ailments or conditions is Chiropractic commonly used to treat?

Again, this is question produces answers that are all over the map. Mostly it depends on the chiropractor you go select. The most common uses are to treat headaches, back pain, whiplash, hip issues, SI Joint dysfunction. Generally, most Chiropractors stick to manipulating the vertebral column and other parts of the axial skeleton.

When they stick to their expertise, I believe many chiropractors can be helpful to people with back pain and other ailments with a direct link to a joint. Even in that arena, it is buyer beware!

I cannot overemphasize the importance of researching the chiropractor you are going to see. I recommend this for ever professional you are going to, but it is especially true with practitioners in alternative medicine (chiropractic, naturopaths, massage, acupuncture, holistic nutrition, etc.).

Alternative medicine is riddled with inconsistent training and a complete lack of regulation and safeguarding in many states. Scope of practice also varies wildly depending on what state you are in.

For example, in some states a chiropractor may function as a primary care doctor or even be allowed to perform minor surgery while in a border state they may not be limited to treating issues of the spine and joints.

My Advice: Do some research on anyone who is going to have your well being in their hands. And if it doesn’t feel right or you feel like you wandered onto a sales lot, run for the door and don’t look back.

If you want a deep look at the history and evidence behind chiropractic I suggest heading over to Science Based Medicine.