Tag Archives: fascia

The Body Remembers

The nervous system remembers the pain and trauma of an injury. With your horse, you might see this as stiffness at the beginning of a workout, or extreme caution. When a rider tells me their horse just “doesn’t want to jump anymore”, I suspect muscle pain and get to work looking for it.

Trauma accumulates in the body, starting at birth. Have you considered how much trauma there is for a foal during the birth process? The results can set up tight muscle patterns that last a lifetime, unless manually removed.

Myofascial release aims to relax contracted muscles, improve blood and lymphatic circulation, and stimulate the stretch reflex in muscles. Often I stand back after just one bodywork session and see that the body is already reorganizing itself. The body looks less chopped up into sections and more of one flowing form.  During a session the body of the horse is educated in the process to move the way it is supposed to: in balance and without restrictions. If the connective tissue that covers every muscle, bone, nerve, blood vessel,  and organ in the body is free of restriction, the horse will move and behave in a completely different way.

Myofascial therapy relieves soft tissue restrictions that cause pain. Some causes of chronic muscle pain are easier to diagnose than others: trauma from birth or a fall, cumulative posture misalignment , a compressed nerve from poor saddle fit, etc.

When pain is caused by Myofascial tightness the diagnosis can be difficult, as fascia restrictions do not show up on MRI scans or X-rays. Yet, those restrictions can play a significant role in creating pain and malfunction in the structure of the back and legs. Every horse (and dog and human!!) should experience pain free movement that can result from having restrictions removed.


The Importance of a Gentle Warm Up

Probably the biggest problem I observe is riders demanding a “frame” from their horse within moments of mounting. Using hands to force the head and neck into a fixed shape causes damage that is difficult to reverse.  Without a good period of time that allows the horse to stretch, warm up muscles, and find their balance under the rider, muscles and fascia tend to get stuck into adhesions.

Superficial fascia is the connective tissue that is found beneath the skin. This tissue links and covers blood vessels, nerves, muscles, and bones. The fascia and muscle combine to form the mysofascial system. Adhesions limit muscle movement which interferes with performance.  Adhesions can also cause severe pain, reduced flexibility, and tender trigger points. 

To release adhesions, I use a technique called ‘myofascial release.’ This technique involves applying gentle but sustained pressure on the soft tissue. During this technique, it is also important to target the fascia. This helps to lengthen and soften the fascia and break up the adhesions and any scar tissue that is present between the bones, muscles, and skin. Scientific evidence shows that myofascial release offers relief from different types of joint and muscle pains. Flexibility and movement is then restored.

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Benefits of Myofascial Manipulation

Fascia is still a medical mystery. In October, 2007, more than 100 scientists from around the world convened in Boston, Massachusetts to discuss the latest research on fascia: an enigmatic, gauze-like matrix of connective tissue that envelopes the muscles, surrounds the nerves and swathes the organs in a body-wide-web of fibrous collagen. But the researchers had some unlikely company. Also in attendance, and outnumbering researchers 5:1, was a group of alternative-medicine practitioners with a mutual interest in fascia. United by their fascination with this medically neglected tissue, the two camps comprised the attendees of the first-ever International Fascia Research Congress.

Ida Rolf , the founder of the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration, described her work on organizing the body as this:  Rolfing works on the web-like network of connective tissues, called fascia, to release, realign, and balance the whole body, potentially resolving discomfort, reducing compensations and alleviating pain.”

For decades, anatomical dissections and representations have presented the body as stripped of its fascial tissues, and the majority of physiology textbooks make little mention of it. “Most scientists,” says Wallace Sampson, alternative medicine skeptic and professor emeritus at Stanford University, “even those wary of alternative therapies, admit that the field of fascia research is a field of neglect, and remains sorely under-investigated.”

The basic concepts of myofascial release are these:

1. The body functions as a total biologic unit

2. The body possesses self-healing and self-regulatory mechanisms

3. Structure and function are interrelated, and

4. Abnormal pressure in one part of the body produces abnormal pressures and strains upon other parts of the body.


Restoring Harmony to the Equine Body

When there is an imbalance in the  alignment of the body, the result is aches and pains.  The pains lead to a learned response from muscles to try and avoid the discomfort, further distorting the body.  When I watch a horse walk, I look for all the clues that show which muscles are tight and causing asymmetry . The massage I do works to lengthen the overly tight muscles, and to help the extended muscles to contract in order to bring the two sides of the horse into balance.

Any repetitive motion creates muscle and tissue shortening. Eventually the torso becomes crooked, which creates restrictions and pain. What I do is a number of techniques to release muscle shortening , spasms ,and adhesions that may have occurred as a result of injury. To lengthen tissue, to restore length of motion, is my goal with each equine athlete.

Many people give their horse time off when it shows signs of muscle soreness or tension. Rest is important, but if there are knots in the muscle fibers, they will still be there no matter how much rest the horse has. Those knots have to be manually removed. You will see the results immediately, as your horse moves with a new fluidity.


Think About Your Car!

When the wheels of your vehicle are not in proper alignment, there is abnormal wear and tear on the tires and other parts. Perfect alignment and maintenance allows your car to run properly and get full longevity on all of its parts and pieces. Your body ,and that of your horse, are exactly the same.

Injury and repetitious patterns can change the body of an athlete from ideal functioning as the fascia gradually shortens, tightens ,and adjusts to accommodate misalignment. Fascia is the glue that holds everything together, providing shape, support, and reinforcement to muscle, bone, and movement. It often forms attachments (gets stuck), and needs to be loosened for free movement.

Any body, whether horse, human, dog, etc. that has had proper massage and myofascial release, feels balanced, capable, comfortable, and  fluid in movement. Structural integration realigns and resets the body, giving freedom of movement often not seen in years. Every athlete needs maintenance, as much as any car!


Where is the Problem?

Myofascial release is a technique of applying extended pressure to the complaining body part. Normally fascia is relaxed, but any kind of trauma, scar, or emotional tension can create kinks in the fascia. This not only impacts the problem area but can spread throughout the body. Think of the fascia as webbing or a sweater that encases all of our muscles, bones, veins, nerves, ligaments and more. Pulling one thread in the sleeve will send shock waves throughout the sweater. Everything is connected.

If you try myofascial release on your own body, you may wonder why I am still alive! The animals, mostly horses and dogs (though there have been pigs, llamas, and goats in the mix) seem to recognize that I am there to help. The process of balancing the structure of the body is not always pleasant. Animals seem to be better than we are at not avoiding hard stuff! Maybe it is more natural for them to let go.

By offering our animals the healing that massage and alternative bodywork therapy can give, we can give something back to them for all that they have given to us.


Lengthening Muscles Increases Their Strength

The Myofascial system is composed of muscle and connective tissue (fascia). Fascia is found everywhere in the body. The most common cause of pain is a disturbance in the myofascial system. Tight muscles develop painful areas called trigger points. These shortened muscles put pressure on nerves and veins, pull bones out of alignment, and pull on tendons, causing inflammation and  damage.

All these problems can develop in the back, neck, legs, hips, wrists (carpal tunnel), elbows, shoulders: get the picture?? All these painful conditions can be treated by restoring short, tight muscles to a healthy, supple, elastic condition. When muscles gets lengthened through deep tissue massage, pressures on joints and other structures disappear.


Since the Dawn of Time

The body is a complex network of muscle, soft tissue, and nerves that communicate with each other. Creating positive change in the external surface of the body has long been used to positively influence the internal organs. A disruption, injury, or imbalance in the soft tissue can lead to imbalance in other parts of the body.

Every body experiences injury to the muscles, bones, and fascia (connective tissue) during a lifetime. In severe cases, medication may be necessary to treat extreme pain, but in many cases, the body can be stimulated to heal itself. Body work can improve circulation and lymph flow, allowing the tissues to recover from injury. Massage helps immune cells fight inflammation and infection. Decreasing stress through massage can improve health in many ways.

There is no one system of massage or body work that I automatically use on every animal. Healing has to occur on many levels, including diet and nutrition, cold laser therapy, acupressure, myofascial release, and different types of massage. It is my challenge and inspiration to explore each individual and it’s needs.


Is Your Horse Holding Tension Patterns?

Fascia surrounds, supports, and penetrates all of the muscles, bones, and organs throughout the body. This net of fascia is the body’s internal system of flexible support, and gives strength and shape to the body. The fascial system responds to injury, chronic tension, and habitual movement patterns by shortening and thickening, thereby locking in unhealthy patterns of strain, and pulling the body out of alignment.

Structural Integration works systematically to release areas of tension and restore flexibility in the body. It literally changes the shape of the body, sometimes quite dramatically. While working on a horse I often will step back, and every time I am amazed at the visual change in the outline of the horse. The back comes up; the neck rises out of the withers gracefully; the horse stands more balanced. It is one of the reasons I am so passionate about this work.

After a session of structural integration, the body should feel lighter, energized, and balanced. Breathing capacity will be greater, range of motion will increase along with ease and fluidity of movement, and the body will be more resilient to injury.

Dr. Rolf, the founder of Rolfing, or Structural Integration,  believed yoga was the best exercise system ever devised if done with the right teacher. She also believed that hands-on manipulation was needed to fully free the structure and to achieve ultimate length and separation in the joints.


Massage Clears Waste From the System

If you have been reading here for a while, you know that massage therapy can improve circulation, release stress and trigger points, release tight fascia, relieve pain, and improve movement and performance. But did you know that massage can release toxins that are stored in tight muscles?

If you or your horse seems unusually fatigued for no good reason, consider that tight muscles can actually cause flu-like symptoms and pain. Drinking lots of water after a massage (often during or after a body work session, a horse will drink a lot of water) will help flush waste from muscles while carrying nutrients necessary for rebuilding.

When muscles are stressed, they block oxygen and nutrients, leading to inflammation that builds up toxins in the muscle tissue. A deep-tissue massage helps loosen muscle tissues, releasing toxins from muscles, and helps blood and oxygen circulate properly.


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