Flexibility & Stretching Zone!

Myofascial Mobility Through Strategic Movement

by Anthony Carey M.A., CSCS, AHFS

Performing self-myofascial release using a variety of tools is now a common strategy among health and fitness professionals, with the term "myofascial" denoting the inseparable connection between muscle and fascia. As our scientific knowledge base grows, our understanding of what occurs during the myofascial release process has also grown and matured. Building on that knowledge, this article will present a strategy of improving myofascial mobility through strategic movement and demonstrate how the Core-Tex™ can facilitate this process in the absence of a coach, trainer, or therapist.

Any passive mobility achieved—be it through a tool or another practitioner—must ultimately be integrated neurologically so that the individual can utilize that motion within their neuromuscular capacity. Using motion-driven myofascial release strategies integrates the neuromuscular response during the process.

Self-Myofascial Release

Many manual practitioners and fitness professionals still consider the process of myofascial release to be purely a mechanical tissue response – that is, the pressure or stroking makes the tissue longer and/or softer by affecting the ground substance, adhesions, and crosslinks of the collagen fibers. This may be just a small part of the tissue response, because there is an abundance of mechanoreceptors in the fascia, which means that the fascia plays a critical role in proprioception and nociception (Yahia, 1992). And receptors in the fascia—such as the epimysium and deep fascia—far outnumber those around the joint (Cantu and Grodin, 2001). Paramount to this is that within these mechanoreceptors, the majority of input comes from the interstitial receptors that are intimately connected to the autonomic nervous system (Schleip, 2003).

According to Schleip, stimulation of the intrafascial mechanoreceptors "leads to an altered proprioceptive input to the central nervous system, which then results in a changed tonus regulation of motor units associated with this tissue." The result is relaxed, freer moving and more pliable tissue.

The autonomic nervous system has also been shown to be influenced by oscillating and vibratory movements via the tonic vibratory reflex-TVR (Comeaux, 2011). One of the premises behind the role of the oscillations in the body's neurophysiology is related to the abundance of rhythmical cycles found both inside and outside of the body. Physiologically, there are rhythms associated with functions such as the heartbeat, breathing, sleep cycles, and hormonal cycles in women. Even one's relaxed, self-regulated gait is rhythmical in nature following the reciprocation of the opposite sides of the upper and lower body utilizing stored elastic energy.

Many disciplines and techniques have utilized the effects of oscillation on the autonomic nervous system. It is a part of osteopathic techniques, joint mobilization, cranial sacral work, facilitated positional release, and Muscle Energy Technique, to name a few. One trait that is common to all of these techniques is that the patient/client is a passive participant, minimizing gravitational forces while lying or sitting.

How Oscillating Motion Using the Core-Tex™ Can Help Your Clients Move Better

The neurophysiological pathways elicited through manual therapies mirror those elicited via rhythmical, oscillating movements. These movements prepare the body for more global myofascial mobilization movements. The patented design of the Core-Tex™ allows it to tilt, translate, and rotate simultaneously. The highly engineered design of the Core-Tex™ allows this motion to occur with complete fluidity. The design and motion create an ideal environment to produce the desired oscillating motion with little effort from the user. This same design allows the user to address the desired tissue mobility along every available vector.

Critical Execution Points

Myofascial restrictions will limit motion at the joints. Stretching or mobilizing techniques that approach a joint's barrier and stress the joint capsule (intimately tied to the intervening fascia) will discharge joint receptors that up-regulate increased muscle tonus around the joint. In addition, the threshold for discharge is likely to be lower in joints that have previously been damaged and not thoroughly rehabilitated or that have experienced degenerative changes. For example, an unstable ankle joint from a previous ankle sprain may respond to rapid, end range, or close to end range loading with increased co-contraction of the peroneals, anterior tibialis, toe extensors, and gastroc/soleus complex. Therefore, the movements suggested here work in a range below any barriers presented by the joints or myofascia.

Two key variables associated with the oscillatory motion are rhythm and amplitude.

1. Rhythm relates to the tempo and timing of the movement. The movement should be continuous with no pause or delay at either end of the movement. A gentle, controlled momentum utilizing the stored elastic energy of the myofascial line(s) being addressed is used as part of the motion to produce a sense of "rocking."

2. Amplitude refers to the size of the oscillation created by both the range of motion in the direction of the barrier (tissue tension) as well as the return range of motion in which the tissue tension is disengaged. These movements should not approach the associated joint barrier and maximal tissue tension. Instead, the motion should have small amplitude in both the direction of tissue tension and in the direction where tension is removed.

End ranges of the Core-Tex™ are limited by a descending bumper in the center of the platform. By creating a "pre-tension" on the tissue prior to any movement of the Core-Tex™, the user can achieve optimal tissue length without approaching a barrier and within the available motion allowed by the Core-Tex™.

Advantages of Movement-Based Myofascial Release

A physiological advantage to a client actively performing these movements in a gravitational field is the addition of heat and fluid exchange within the tissue, created by the muscles associated with the movement (Ingber, 2003). Mechanically, more overall connective tissue can be influenced via movement. Huijing (2007) has shown myofascial force transmission between and within muscles, demonstrating connections between both synergistic and antagonistic muscles. Within a muscle fiber, up to half of the total force generated by the muscle is transmitted to surrounding connective tissues rather than directly to the origin and insertion of the muscle fibers. Therefore, stretching or mobilizing in "a" plane of motion still leaves a significant number of vectors unaddressed.

The overall objective of the oscillatory movements on the Core-Tex™ is to reduce myofascial tone so that the range of motion can gradually be improved through the targeted myofascial lines by increasing the amplitude of the movements. As tonus is decreased, the oscillations create a pumping action of the tissue. As range of motion is increased, fascial lines in parallel, as well as in series, are positively affected.

Oscillating Myofascial Release in Action

The precision movement of the Core-Tex™ creates the ideal environment for the optimal rhythm and amplitude for the oscillating motion.

A challenge with this strategy is that its success or failure is not immediately observable by you, the personal trainer. Instead, it relies upon the kinesthetic awareness of your client and their ability to sense the reduction in resistance from the tissue and systematically increase the amplitude of oscillations as the body becomes receptive to the movement. One common error is for the client to increase the amplitude prematurely and approach the joint barrier.

The videos below provides additional examples of movement-based myofascial release techniques you can use with your clients:





Conclusion

Strategic movement can be an adjunct or complimentary strategy your client uses for self-myofascial release in combination with tool assisted devices on the fitness floor and/or manual work by a licensed professional.

If we can agree that the body is in fact a rhythmic structure, then with oscillating movements you are creating rhythm where rhythm is not present due to myofascial restriction. By following a philosophy of "ask – don't tell the body," you can work with the body versus against it to actively improve function of the myofascial system.

About the Author

Anthony Carey holds a Master's degree in biomechanics and athletic training. He is PFP Magazine's 2009 Personal Trainer of the Year and owner of Function First in San Diego, California—voted one of San Diego's "Best Of" Personal Trainers/Studio 2010-2012. Anthony is an international presenter on biomechanics, corrective exercise, functional anatomy, and motor control and their relationships to pain and function. He is author of The Pain-Free Program: A Proven Method to Relieve Back, Neck, Shoulder, and Joint Pain and the inventor of the Core-Tex™.

References

Cantu, R.I., & Grodin, A.J. (2001). Myofascial Manipulation: Theory and Clinical Application. Austin, TX: PRO-ED, Inc.

Comeaux, Z. (2011). Dynamic fascial release and the role of mechanical/vibrational assist devices in manual therapies. Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies 15, 35 e 41.

Findley, T. (2009). International Journal of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork, 2(3): 4-9.

Huijing, P.A. (2007). Epimuscular myofascial force transmission between antagonistic and synergistic muscles can explain movement limitation in spastic paresis. Electromyography and Kinesiology, 17(6): 708–724.

Ingber, D.E. (2003). Tensegrity II. How structural networks influence cellular information processing networks. Journal of Cell Science, 116: 1397-1408.

Schleip, R. (2003). Fascial plasticity – a new neurobiological explanation. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies 7(1):11-19 and 7(2):104-116.

Schleip, R., Klingler, W., & Lehmann-Horn F. (2005). Active fascial contractility: fascia may be able to contract in a smooth muscle-like manner and thereby influence musculoskeletal dynamics. Medical Hypotheses, 65: 273–277.

Schleip, R., Duerselen, L., Vleeming, A., Naylor, I., Lehmann-Horn, F., Zorn, A., Jaeger, H., & Klinger, W. (2012). Strain hardening of fascia: Static stretching of dense fibrous connective tissues can induce a temporary stiffness increase accompanied by enhanced matrix hydration. Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies, 19: 94-100.