Fascia is a fascinating web of layers that plays an integral part in our entire structural being. It keeps everything within the body in its right place! It keeps the actual muscle in place and also lets the muscles move independently. Think of a rack of ribs. That white layer you usually take off before you steam your ribs is fascia.
An important function of fascia is the lubrication it provides so muscles can slide or move besides one another. The tissue can also be described as a fluid structure and connects to bone as well. Our mobility, integrity, and resilience are determined in large part by how well hydrated our fascia is. In fact, what we call “stretching a muscle” is actually the fibers of the connective tissue (collagen) gliding along one another on the mucous-y proteins called glycosaminoglycans. (1)
So why is there so much debate of the efficacy of Myofascial release in orthopedic conditions? Some people argue that we have no idea what impact we are having on the tissue underneath the skin. Some say if anything, it is just inflicting tissue damage and not helping in any way. (2) My personal belief is that fascia plays a crucial role in our body mechanics and our ability to move freely and easily. Everything is connected. Because all muscles have an origin and insertion point, so if we pull at the top of something its save to assume the bottom will move. Which is why when you injure muscles in our neck at 20, you can sometimes find yourself experiencing unexplained shoulder pain in your 30's.
Fascia is the intricate web that covers our body, this makes your fascia a system of proprioception - i.e. of knowing where your body is in space, but also of graceful full body orchestration of movement. Therefore, well-hydrated and supple fascia is crucial to maintaining your natural settings for alignment and function. (3)
So why the debate on Fascia or the effectiveness of Myofascial release? Myofascial release (MFR) is a form of manual therapy that involves the application of a low load, long duration stretch to the myofascial complex, intended to restore optimal length, decrease pain, and improve function. Anecdotal evidence shows great promise for MFR as a treatment for various conditions. However, research to support the anecdotal evidence is lacking. (4)
Restoring motion between restricted layers of muscle and fascia, and improving relative tissue slide. The problem is that to really ‘release’ structures that are adhered, or stuck together, you need to generate significant ‘shear’ force. (5) As far as my clients are concerned, I will continue to use "myofascial Release" If the prominent debate is whether there is a actual release of fascia, that is not my main concern, however, any technique that creates some kind of change in the myofascial is my perogative in creating more mobility and less pain.
a)Robert Schleip et al., Fascia: The Tensional Network of the Human Body (Elsevier, 2012), 77.
c) Thomas W. Findley, MD, PhD, “Fascia Research From a Clinician/Scientist’s Perspective,” International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, (2011).