Every massage therapist is required to take continuing education because it is so important since new science evolves every day. Recently, Haley and I had the opportunity to take a course on the subject we have been geeking out over called Anatomy Trains by Tom Myers. I’d like to share some of the knowledge and understanding we now have and a description of why we choose to massage the way we do. In the most basic terms I can conjure up, Anatomy Trains is myofascial continuity. Now let’s break that down.
Fascia: the web of connective tissue that spreads throughout the whole body, that surrounds every muscle, bone, blood vessel, and organ. It’s considered the “organ of posture” (Myofascial: Myo- meaning muscle)
Our fascia system has tensegrity, constantly adapting to the forces from our environment. When one part moves, the body as a whole responds. It’s an excellent way to see and explain postural compensations, and how one structure affects other distant structures. Our fascia is always being trained to supply our demands. The fun part: There are 12 myofascial lines, or trains, that make your body move and function. You can think of these trains as gummy worms. The gummy worm starts out at a standard size, pull both ends and it begins to stretch, let one end go and it will eventually retract to its’ normal size. Each myofascial train works just ‘like’ a gummy worm.
Let’s take walking as an example. As you place one foot forward, the rest of your body responds. Your hips move, your arms sway, your shoulders, your torso; there’s a counterbalance happening to keep your head in a stable position. There is an ease and a gracefulness, almost effortless motion to simply walking. The reason for this is because our fascia is the connection from one individual muscle to the next. Without it, our movement would be robotic and segregated. As one side is lengthened to stretch a leg forward to step, the other side is being shortened to retract back through the body to take the next step.
Now take this a step further and imagine your favorite activity. I don’t know about you but I was going to say sitting on the couch.
Everyone knows the motion of how to make it down to the couch level. Bend your knees, shift your weight, poke your butt out, and hope for the best, right? But if we look at the fascia, it’s a bit more complicated. The entire action of simply sitting on the couch has activated all of your fascia, from your toes to your head, just like walking. It’s easy for most of us. Now imagine there’s a recent injury in your body, like a sprained ankle. This movement that we didn’t even think about before now has our attention as we have to adjust our weight more to one side of the body to keep any weight off this ankle. The fascia reacts to make up for this compensation. We all know what this feels like if we have ever exercised, we become fatigued and sore, anytime we are building strength in a new area whether it be fascia training or muscular training, because remember, we are always training our fascial system. Let’s say a week goes by now, not only are we “sitting” differently but our posture and the way we walk has adjusted as well. Keep this in a prolonged state of a month or two and you’ll notice that things besides your ankle are beginning to ache. One side of our body or section has become shorter than the other because of the demand that was required for compensation. Maybe it doesn’t lengthen out the way it use to pre-injury, and it feels stiff and tight. Until we take note of this and re-train our fascia, we will remain in this state of imbalance. Imbalances may create further complications down the road.
Most of the time, though not in every case, the pain you feel in an area is a symptom from where the actual cause is. Understanding these lines and their roles in function, we can better assess a treatment plan. Our consult, as quick as it can be sometimes, is the most important part of your session. We have evaluated the way you sit, the compensation patterns you’re holding, and the angle of your feet, along with a few other observations, all in a short period of time. We take note of these differences and focus all of our work on elongating the areas we found to be shortened, unlocking tension throughout one entire line, creating balance through the rest. Our massage movements will be much slower because we are sinking down and hooking into a deep fascia layer under the skin. We give your fascia time to release and the rest to respond. The pressure should only be enough to affect the stuck fascia. Releasing superficial layers will allow for the deeper layers to release and become more accessible. “It’s not how deep you go, it’s how you go deep.” (Ida Rolf) Your sprained ankle shifted your weight onto the other more stable ankle, shortening the fascia and hiking your hip up, creating an imbalance, shortening through your back, shoulders, and neck. Whichever angle we begin our session with, whether we start at the feet, the hips, or the head, every movement and pressure we apply is directed at opening the locked sections of that affected line. You may feel the effects right away, or it may take a few sessions, which is dependent on many variables such as cellular hydration and the length of time you may have been in this state. This type of treatment if you will, views the body as a whole, functioning unit, and not just functioning individual sections. Don’t worry though, the massage we offer that you love so much is still the same. We’ve only become a bit more knowledgeable in our craft and deliberate in our treatment plan. You’re still in good hands.
If you are interested in more information on fascia, click the link and see Tom Myers himself describe fascia: https://youtu.be/QLHcsjZulbk
Anatomy Trains Website: https://www.anatomytrains.com/
Shannon Smart, NCLMT #11910