The Evolution of Fascial Therapy
by Eric Winder, DC
Fascial therapy can be a key to fixing “kinks and dents” in the human body that don’t go away just from stretching and moving. With rapid growth in research in this field, fascial therapies have become consistently more effective and gentler than ever before. A glimpse at the history of fascial treatment can help us understand why it is becoming more well known and in demand.
The “Mother” of Fascial Therapy
The idea of helping people through fascial therapy, or working with the fascia, started with Ida Rolf. She was a chemist who also studied mathematics and atomic physics. Rolf was a student of yoga in the 1920’s before most had even heard of it. She developed a treatment method called Structural Integration which was better known by its nickname “Rolfing.” The main concept behind this therapy was that you could stretch or lengthen fascia.
The idea of lengthening fascia has been disproven, as fascia turns out to be too tough for stretching without badly injuring a person. While Rolf’s methods were sometimes known to be quite painful, many people experienced relief from her treatments, and they became popular around the world. Many other practitioners went on to develop similar treatment methods.
One of the reasons fascial therapy worked was due to the sensation of restricted tissue softening after treatment. Rolf proposed that chemicals in the tissue were changing from a stiff gel to a more slippery, fluid state. While she later admitted this was probably a nonsense explanation, others took it as a statement of fact and spread the idea far and wide. Despite this, no research to date exists to suggest this is true.
More recently, some promoters of fascial therapies have said there are “adhesions” or “knots” in the fascia, and that treatment physically breaks apart fibers which are stuck together. Again, research shows the structure of fascia just doesn’t work that way. However, that does not mean therapists aren’t feeling something similar to a “knot” and the “melting” of that knot. Nor does it mean their treatments aren’t helpful. It’s just what is happening is probably quite different.
Current research suggests that most of what occurs in successful fascial therapy is neurological. When a therapist stimulates an area of fascia that feels stiff or restricted, they are stimulating feedback between the nerve endings of that tissue and the central nervous system. The softening of the tissue is probably occurring because of a reaction in the nervous system which then stimulates chemical change in the affected area.
Today, fascial therapists think less about treating mechanical “knots” and more about influencing the nervous system to make the fascia work better. As in many areas of healthcare, some ideas of the past have not panned out. However, those of us who work with fascia are indebted to pioneers like Ida Rolf.
She, in particular, started a whole field of therapy by looking at a tissue that everyone else had been ignoring. As an outgrowth of her work, today we have powerful tools to work with fascia to relieve pain and suffering and improve the quality of people’s lives.
Dr. Eric Winder has been practicing chiropractic for 20 years, with a focus on fascial treatment and soft tissue therapies for the past 17 years. Dr. Winder’s practice Gentlebay Chiropractic focuses on relieving pain and restoring alignment and motion through soft tissue therapies without forceful manipulation. Gentlebay is located at 3131 S Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. For more information, call 941-957-8390 or visit Gentlebay.com.