Introducing the “New” Organ and Myofascial Release
The following is a list of issues that can be addressed using the Barnes Myofascial Release technique:
Back Pain – Cervical Pain – Muscle Spasms – Restricted Range of Motion – Chronic Pain – Neurological Dysfunction – Scoliosis – Headaches/Migraines – Fibromyalgia – TMJ – Carpal Tunnel – Head Trauma – Sports Injuries – Post-Operative Rehabilitation – Chronic Fatigue – Geriatric Conditions – Pediatric Conditions – and more.
Recently, major media outlets released news that scientists have discovered a “new” organ within the human body. Search “new organ recently found in human body” and articles will appear from National Geographic, Time, CNN, Popular Science and so on. This "new" organ is something that we were unable to detect because our scientific methods and technology to do so were insufficient. So, when they found this “new” organ, they gave it a new name, the Interstitium (interstitial means “small gaps”). Previously, the reason scientists were unable to study these “gaps” was because they could only look at them in cadavers. In the past, the tissue they were looking at was called fascia. If you’ve ever cooked a turkey or chicken, you’ve seen it as that layer of tissue between the skin and muscle. Yet, it’s so much more than that.
After the technological development of endoscopy, scientists realized that how they were thinking about the fascial system was completely wrong. Instead of being a solid barrier that surrounds muscle fibers, organs, nerves, cells, and even bones, they discovered that in a living organism, the fascia (aka connective tissue) contains microscopic spaces between the various fibers of the tissue. It looks somewhat like a fish net that covers, connects, and runs through every part of the body. The spaces within the fascial net are filled with fluid, a watery crystalline gel-like substance that serves to give structure to and transmit information throughout the body. But, when the body dies, these spaces dry up, collapse, and create a solid single layer of tissue (like in the turkey).
As it turns out, injury, stress, trauma (physical and emotional), and several other things can cause the fascial system to collapse upon itself. In turn, when the tissue collapses it begins to squeeze the surrounding nerves, muscles, cells, vessels, and organs which then become painful and sometimes lead to major and minor diseases. The effect of restricted fascial tissue can be up to 2,000 pounds per square inch on the various parts of the body that they surround. Unfortunately, micro- and macro-traumas to the fascial system seldom repair on their own. So, most of us are carrying around dysfunctional fascial traumas that may have occurred in childhood, early adulthood, and even during birth. Additionally, since the fascial system is a single connected network, the cause of our pain, illness, or disease can manifest in areas of the body far from the fascial restriction. I like to think of it as a sheet that when held loosely between two hands, it moves freely but, when tight, the slightest pressure on any part of the sheet will affect the entire sheet or other areas of the sheet. Another common analogy is a pull in a sweater, where a single pull in the sweater creates tension throughout it.
Now, you may have wondered back at the beginning of this piece why I used quotations around the word “new”. Well, the theory is not new. Over the past 125 years, some scientists and doctors, inspired by Quantum Physics, Systems Theory, and Cybernetics, speculated that connective tissue (hence, fascia) always has worked in this way. In the late 1800s, an Italian physician and scientist named Camillo Golgi (as in the Golgi Apperatus found within cells) called fascia the “perineuronal or pericellular net.” Several scientists between 1948 and the mid-70s researched the system without much recognition largely because their theories did not subscribe to how doctors and scientists were looking at the human body at the time. One of the individuals that began looking at the body, trauma, injuries, illness, and disease back in the 70s was a Physical Therapist named John Barnes, who is now my teacher on this subject.
Through years of trial and error as well as continued research, Barnes developed a system of fascial healing (Myofascial Release/MFR) that has unparalleled success in dealing with pain and postural issues. Based on scientific research about how fascial tissue reacts to different therapies (including Trigger Point, Deep Tissue Massage, Neuromuscular Technique, and older versions of myofascial therapy) and how these therapies stimulate the electromagnetic and chemical make-up of the fluids in the interstitial spaces, Barnes’ created a method that uses slow constant low-grade pressure to stretch the fascia, which allows the layers of the “fish net” to expand and refill with fluid.
One of the claims that Barnes and MFR practitioners make is that the MFR method of healing can create long-lasting and often permanent results. As someone that has received some of this healing and observed the effects of this modality on others, I often find myself saying “This stuff is what healing really is all about!”
Barnes teaches this method to all kinds of practitioners including doctors, physical therapists, occupational therapists, nurses, and, yes, brilliant massage therapists like me!
So, why haven’t we heard about this before? Well, sadly, until this “recent discovery” Barnes and many of his colleagues have been like a salmon swimming up a raging river. Therapists of all kinds over the past several decades have been taught that the best manipulation is a forceful one. Many have also been trained to believe that they are the ones doing the healing. Meanwhile, patients and clients have also been trained to believe the same things. Even when I was in massage school, we learned that we only needed to hold the stretch for 90-120 seconds, which as I learned at the recent MFR seminar is just the beginning of the process. Personally, I believe that all practitioners (of any type) can do is provide an environment in which the patient’s mind, body, and spirit can heal itself. So, I want to share this new technique with as many patients as are willing to try something new.
Now, you may want to know what a session is like. The technique requires patience on the part of the client and the practitioner. A single stretch will be held for a minimum of 5 minutes. There are no set protocols. As a practitioner, I will use a number of means to assess where to begin the session. Then, after an initial hold, the body’s vasomotor response and your individual input will suggest the next step in the session. As the client, it helps the process when you bring your awareness fully to your body during a session (little or no talking and preferably staying awake). Since the technique is performed directly on the skin without the use of any creams, oils, or lotions, the client typically is on the table above the sheets with limited clothing (only shorts for men and shorts with a bra/sports bra or a two-piece bathing suit for women). Of course, depending on the area of the body being worked, blankets, towels, and/or sheets may be used for comfort. I can also combine Myofascial Release with a regular massage but would need to do the myofascial work prior to the massage. A typical Myofascial session will last between 30 and 90 minutes and may include a single hold or multiple holds. My fee for these sessions is the same as for my Integrative Therapeutic Massage.
If you think you might be interested in receiving myofascial work, please contact me. If you would like to add myofascial work to an already scheduled appointment, please let me know so that we can plan accordingly.
I look forward to sharing this technique with all my clients. I honestly believe that this work is one of the most important things that we can do for ourselves and for one another!
Barnes, John F. 1989 Myofascial Release I: MFR Seminar Workbook, Malvern, PA.
Barnes, Mark F. 1997 The Basic Science of Myofascial Release: Morphological Change in Connective Tissue in Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies vol. 1(4) pp.231-238.