Mary felt like an elephant was sitting on her chest. Breathing was hard and fatigue had become normal. Her neck and shoulders felt heavy, tight and painful. She went to the doctor for a check up. Blood tests showed everything normal. X-rays came up with nothing. Her insurance company would not approve an MRI. Depression moved in like the evening fog. Her discomfort and pain grew. Her mystery seemed unsolvable and the doctors were at a loss. “Am I going crazy?” she thought.
No, Mary was not going crazy. This situation is a classic example of the symptoms of an unhealthy fascial system. How does this occur? Let us look closely at what fascia is and how it gets out of balance.
There are four types of tissue in the body. Muscle, epithelial, nervous, and connective tissues make up our entire selves. Connective tissue is comprised of collagen, elastin, and a ground substance. The consistency of the ground substance and the ratio of collagen determines whether the tissue is bone, blood, tendon, ligament, or connective tissue proper. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. It is strong and fibrous. Its job is to envelop or encase, to protect, and to make us tough. Collagen is in every organ, gland, and tissue. It even surrounds each cell.
The word Fascia has become a generic term. If one looks in an anatomy book, the different “envelops” actually have different names. As we look smaller and smaller in the muscle fiber we see epimysium , perimysium, and endomysium. In nerves it is called epineurium, perineurium, and endoneurium. The coverings of bones are called periosteum. The point is this: no matter the name, it is all connective tissue made of collagen, elastin and a ground substance. Surgeons may need to communicate these different areas more precisely, but in body work, the exactness does not affect the outcome.
Myofascial Release (MFR) addresses this very system. Myo meaning muscle, myofascial release’s name implies we are working merely with the muscle’s outer covering of connective tissue. In actuality, an MFR practitioner can engage this connective tissue matrix (briefly described above), anywhere and potentially affect the entire body. This is because the fascial system is a continuous three-dimensional spider web of tough collagen and pliable elastin, sitting in a gelatinous polysaccharide ground substance.
How do the problems start? In our bodies, stress causes the collagen to literally thicken (the body manufactures more protein fibers), and the elastin to shorten. (Sometimes elastin loses its elasticity which is another topic). Also, the ground substance can dehydrate and crystallize. What does stress mean? Examples are: over-use especially with poor body mechanics, poor posture over a period of time, accidents, inflammation, surgery, and/or disease processes. This thickening, shortening and crystallizing can choke off delicate tissues such as blood vessels and nerves, or interfere with lymph drainage, to name a few examples. The symptoms can be exactly what Mary felt, or sometimes even worse. To exacerbate the situation, even if Mary had been given an MRI, modern tests will not reveal the above scenario unless the collagen has really made an obvious scar.
The good news is that with a skilled body worker, this situation can be remedied. Next month we will talk about how myofascial release works, and what the client/ therapist’s roles are and how they work together as a team toward health.
Dorene Garvin is passionate about myofascial release and has been in private practice as an MFR Therapist in SLO since 1996.