Instrument-aided soft tissue manipulation, or IASTM, involves the utilization of tools that, when applied correctly, can break down adhesions to begin fascia repair
Studies confirm that myofascial release therapy provides a number of benefits, even when it is self-performed, for fascia repair.
For example, in a 2017 study published in the Journal of Sport Rehabilitation, 14 active adult males performed myofascial release on two separate occasions, 48 hours apart, on their own posterior thigh and calf muscles. After comparing their flexibility pre and post-study, researchers noticed that the subjects experienced an average 11% increase in their ankle dorsiflexion after these two sessions, and a 6% increase in their hip flexion.
Other studies have linked myofascial release with benefits such as better sports performance. One example of this is a 2018 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research which noted that recreational athletes were able to improve their vertical jump height if they engaged in myofascial release prior to beginning their exercise regimen.
An additional advantage of using myofascial release relies in its ability to help remodel fascia after some type of trauma or injury.
The mechanics of fascial repair
Research shows that there four basic stages of healing tissues go through after they’ve been damaged via an accident, some type of injury, or even a surgical procedure. They are:
- Hemostasis – which involves the immediate release of growth factors and coagulation
- Inflammation – occurs within 24 hours to “clean [the area] of foreign matter,” but can last a week or longer
- Proliferation – usually begins 8-14 days post-injury and involves the increase of collagen and fibroblasts
- Remodeling – can sometimes last for years and is when collagen is replaced by stronger fibers, increasing strength in the area of the injury while reducing its elasticity at the same time.
This increased strength and reduced elasticity occurring in the final stage of healing can sometimes result in range of motion issues for the patient. Additionally, what motion remains may bring about pain as the elasticity of the tissues is reduced. With myofascial release, these soft tissues can be manually remodeled, improving flexibility and easing pain.
Another reason myofascial release in these types of cases is so important is because we are beginning to better understand that the health of one’s fascia can impact bodily processes beyond just serving as a structural support.
Understanding fascia’s bigger role
Though fascia has traditionally been appreciated for its ability to provide the human body its basic form, these connective tissues actually do so much more according to the American Fascial Distortion Model Association (AFDMA).
For instance, fascia contains mechanoreceptors, making it an important component of the communication process that occurs within the body. This communication exists in the form of proprioception, interoception, and nociception, thus impacting the body’s awareness of space, physical condition, and pain.
Therefore, if there are any hinderances in this fascia, individuals may notice issues or distortions in these three areas. Subsequently, by releasing restrictions, fascia repair and normal communication patterns can return.
This isn’t always easy though as the AFDMA indicates that obtaining a clearer understanding of fascia’s complete role in the body’s functionality is somewhat hindered because there is no real agreement about what qualifies as fascia. That’s why the association relies on “a model of fascia,” which it has defined as tissue that glides, enabling the body to move freely without being hindered or causing pain.
Myofascial release and fascia repair techniques
Fascia repair can sometimes be achieved by massaging the impacted area, breaking down scar tissue that has formed. Additional benefits of massage include helping the body remove waste in the injured region, as well as creating an environment that stimulates the growth of additional blood vessels, thus improving oxygen and nutrient flow and enhancing recovery.
Another myofascial release technique that can be used to help remodel fascia so it functions in a healthier, non-restrictive manner is the Graston technique. This form of instrument-aided soft tissue manipulation, or IASTM, involves the utilization of tools that, when applied correctly, can begin to break down adhesions that have formed during the recovery process.
Patients can also be encouraged to engage in at-home IASTM-care techniques, promoting their own myofascial release and fascia repair with the performance of self-massage or by using foam rollers. Both options can help the fascia become more pliable, thereby reducing their range of motion restrictions and related pain.