One of the most common requests that I receive from clients is for a “deep tissue” massage. “It’s not possible to hurt me” some say, or “the harder the better,” or “Please beat me up.” Do you see the irony here? People dealing with pain by seeking out painful experiences. I do sympathize…but I also believe there’s a better way.
Current research around pain science is showing us that you can’t treat pain with pain. If you do, you may be making it worse. The goal should be not to create more pain, but to instead create a sense of ease.
This becomes possible when you and your therapist are keenly aware of the web of connective tissue that coats and connects every structure in your body, called fascia. Most of us, at some point, have at least some awareness of the existence of fascia. Even if you’ve never heard the word, you probably wondered if fascia was edible as a kid when you encountered that film of white stuff on a chicken breast. When Dr. Lenarz completed his cadaver classes back in the 1980’s, fascia was simply the stuff that was in the way of the stuff they were trying to look at. We now know that fascia is hugely important to the function of our bodies and of incredible relevance both to massage and to the chiropractic profession. Muscles move bones, but fascia is a how muscles communicate with one another to perform coordinated movement. You can also think of fascia like a taught rubber band that holds the tension on the structural framework of the skeleton. Without it, our bones would be constantly rattling out of alignment. Obviously, it’s a good thing that fascia is so strong, however, its strength also means problems can occur when an injury or a repetitive movement pattern causes fascia to take on a new shape to prevent further injury. The challenge for you as a chiropractic patient undergoing a healing process, and for your massage therapist, is to convince your fascia that it is safe to let go. Research has found that mechanical pressure does very little in the way of lengthening fascia.
Fortunately, fascia is more than just a rubber band. It is actually quite complex and rich in nerve endings that, when gently stimulated, create a relaxation response in the autonomic nervous system. This response, in turn, helps to encourage fascia to relax and release. If fascia is a new concept to you, I encourage you to learn more. Tom Meyers, author of Anatomy Trains, gave a presentation on fascia at a Google event, that is a great way to start.
The next time you get a massage, if you feel your skin being stretched, it means the first layer of fascia, the hypodermis, is being stimulated. Rather than simply bracing yourself for an elbow in that knot under your shoulder blade, try to instead sink into the subtle sensations of the fascial stretch. Notice where else in your body you feel connections and changes taking place. Feel free to lose yourself inside your head, the place where the deepest work takes place!