Myofascial Release is a term broadly used to imply work on the muscles and fascia to eliminate pain and restore motion.
Treatment usually uses sustained pressure into myofascial restrictions with or without movement to allow the connective tissue fibers to reorganize themselves in a more flexible, functional fashion.
Fascia is very densely woven connective tissue that covers and connects every muscle, bone, nerve, artery and vein as well as all of the internal organs. The fascial system is not just a system of separate coverings. It is actually one structure that exists from head to foot without interruption. Hence, you see that each part of the body is connected to every other part by the fascia, like the yarn in a sweater. Since the fascia surrounds and attaches all theses structures it creates a strong supportive function much like the wires of the tent that hold the tent poles or the bones in place.
When you connect the fascia along lines of movement our bodies are like puppets pulled back and forth by strings or lines of fascia that coordinate the muscles to work in a combined effort. Many of these lines of fascia overlap to create a multidimensional model of movement that allows us to be fully mobile. The fascia has the ability to stretch and move without restriction, however since the muscles all go different directions they must be able to glide over and past each other.
The problem occurs when the muscles are by bound up fascia or scar tissue from surgery, injuries, inflammation, repetitive movements or poor posture causing the fascia to become less pliable.
It then becomes tight, restricted and a source of tension to the rest of the body. Traumas, such as falls, whiplash, surgery, poor posture and repetitive stress injuries have cumulative effects on this fascial system. The changes they cause in the fascial system can influence the biomechanics, function and pain of the rest of the body. The fascia then exerts excessive pressure producing pain or restricting movement as well as affecting our flexibility, stability and our ability to withstand stress and strain.
Our structure can actually change slowly over time to accommodate our poor movement or lack of movement patterns so that rather than being an unchangeable bony structure we are more like a malleable piece of clay that can slowly change over time for better or for worse. This is why yoga is so crucial to optimal health.
Not only does it teach better posture and movement patterns, but it also teaches elasticity in the soft tissues and suppleness around the joints along with core stability and balance.
When the problem is more serious, I recommend soft tissue treatments like Active Release Technique, Rolfing or other deep tissue treatments to speed up the soft tissue changes however yoga in itself will slowly retrain the soft tissue and remodel the structure of our bodies over time with mindfulness.
The following myofascial release techniques are meant to help you begin to remodel your structure and to provide effects that can also supplement your physiology.
For instance, better posture can increase respiration and oxygen intake and therefore profusion of the tissues by this well-know therapeutic agent. Taking compression off the abdominal muscles and gently stimulating the organs can have profound effects on your ability to process and eliminate toxins. Just learning to stand upright can change your perspective enough to have a powerful effect on depression and anxiety. These are just a few reasons to be aware of the effects that your posture, exercise and mindset play in creating optimal health.
Myofascial Release for the hips:
Below are some techniques using tennis balls to release the glutes and hip rotators that are tight and often the culprit of low back pain, knee injuries and poor ankle biomechanics. This one takes some playing with to learn how to leverage the body weight to get deeper into the hips but extremely powerful when used properly. You must be able to relax here; do not clench or grip and think you’re helping yourself because it’s more painful that way. Part of exercise is retraining the muscles to learn how to relax properly so that they can also contract more efficiently when they need to.
1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor.Lift the hips and place the tennis balls on each side of the top of the sacrum just off the bone. Relax completely for 1-2 minutes using the weight of the body to relax the muscles, then move the balls down a few inches at a time and repeat. Next bring the balls back to where you started and move the balls about 2 inches wider and relax, moving down a few inches at a time stopping at the tender or tight areas for at least a minute or two.
As you get better at knowing your hips and your tight spots you can go right to the tight areas or play with moving the knee down to one side so the knee comes out to the side toward the floor then maybe do both legs together as well as rolling onto one side at a time.
2. Lie on your back and bend your knees to place your feet on the floor. Make sure you have some room to move around here. Lift the hips and place the tennis balls on either side of the sacrum a couple of inches off the bone. Take your right ankle and place it on your left knee so that the right knee moves away from you and flex your right foot hold and try to relax into it. If you want more lean onto the lifted leg side hip so the knee comes toward the ground. Place both feet back on the floor and then move the balls wider or lower until you find a tender or tight spot and repeat, relaxing into the tender areas for at least one to two minutes, then repeat on the other side.
When you get better at this one you can do the same thing with the knees bent, feet together and lifting the feet off the floor so that the weight rests over the hips on the tennis balls.
These can be a little tricky to find by reading about it but remember it’s simply a practice of looking and finding what’s there. If all else fails just roll around until you find some tension and then hold and try to ease into it.
Editor: Kate Bartolotta.
Tiffany Cruikshank is an internationally known yoga teacher, author and health and wellness expert. Tiffany travels the globe inspiring people to live their lives to the fullest. Tiffany is known for her lighthearted attention to detail and passionate dedication to the practice. With her training in acupuncture and sports medicine, her yoga classes are guided by a strong anatomic focus intermingled with her characteristic playfulness using movement as medicine. Tiffany is the acupuncturist and yoga teacher at the Nike World Headquarters in Portland, Oregon, and has been featured in various video and print ads including ads for Nike, Lululemon, Kira Grace and Yogi Tea. You can take class with her on www.YogaGlo.com or read her articles on MindBodyGreen.com, Origin Magazine and Elephant Journal. Her book, Optimal Health For A Vibrant Life, is a 30 day detox for yogis. For her traveling, teacher training and retreat schedule go to www.TiffanyYoga.com or stay in touch on her Facebook fan page — Tiffany Cruikshank Yoga.