What is myofascial release?
Fascial health can become compromised due to things like chronic emotional and/or physical stress, poor posture, or repetitive use injuries. Surgeries can also put our fascial health at risk. Abdominal operations such as hysterectomies, cesarean sections, and laparoscopic surgeries all involve making an incision, either big or small, through the various tissues of our abdomen – fascia included. As these incisions heal, scar tissue, which is fascia tissue that has become restricted, stiff, or adhered to surrounding structures, can develop.
Pregnancy also has significant impacts on fascia. As a baby grows, the tissues of the abdomen are stretched to create room. After birth, special care and attention are needed to ensure the tissues of the abdominal wall, including the fascia, recover as they should. Other conditions, such as abdominal hernias, occur when our fascial health is already compromised. Our muscular-fascial tissue can be weak, so much so that a small hole begins to form in the tissues of our abdominal wall. Eventually, intestinal tissue may begin to push through, creating a hernia.
When our fascia becomes restricted or adhered to the structures it is surrounding, we experience imbalance. This can cause disruptions in our normal function and our digestive system. And, when our fascial system is compromised, it can greatly diminish our quality of life.
Stress is an unavoidable part of life, and it can impact all areas of our well-being. One area especially susceptible to the effects of stress is our digestive system. When faced with heightened stress levels, it takes a toll on the entire health of our bodies. Here are ways stress affects our digestive health:
Increased sensitivity and inflammation: When you experience chronic stress, your body’s stress response system stays activated. This leads to a consistent release of stress hormones, such as cortisol, that can have negative impacts on our gut. Elevated cortisol levels have been associated with increased gut permeability (leaky gut) and changes in gut microbiota, which can trigger systemic inflammation. (1) When the gut is inflamed, it has a more difficult time digesting food. You may be unable to tolerate certain foods and you may notice increases in food sensitivities.
Alteration of gut motility: Elevated levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, can disrupt gut motility. Gut motility is the process of moving foods, liquids, and waste through the digestive tract. This can lead to symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, or a combination of both. The balance of contractions that help food move smoothly through the digestive tract can be disturbed, leaving them overactive or underactive. This change in activity can lead to discomfort.
Impaired nutrient absorption: Chronic stress can impair the body’s ability to absorb and use nutrients from our food effectively. When stress hormones are elevated, blood flow is redirected from the digestive organs to the muscles, heart, and brain as part of the body’s fight-or-flight response. As a result, the digestive system receives less blood flow, hindering the absorption of vital nutrients. This can lead to deficiencies over time.
Altered gut microbiota: Every gut has a unique collection of microorganisms that live in the intestinal tract. This is referred to as one’s gut microbiota. Many things contribute to the kind of bacteria that grow and reside in our gut. This includes foods, medications, environmental exposures, and stress levels. Stress can greatly disrupt the balance of the gut microbiota. To have a healthy gut, there should be a healthy balance between different bacteria. Stress can lead to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria and a decline in beneficial bacteria. This imbalance, called dysbiosis, can negatively impact digestion and cause gastrointestinal issues.
Increased sensation of pain: Those with chronic stress tend to have a heightened perception of pain in the body. This can increase abdominal pain, cramping, and other digestive discomfort. This heightened pain response can further aggravate stress levels and create a vicious cycle between stress and digestive symptoms.
When repeated stress, injury, or surgical operations occur, the ground substance of our fascia can become more solid and less fluid. Ground substances are the gel-like substance that is part of fascial tissue. The hardening of this substance inhibits an important quality of MFR treatments called the piezoelectric effect. The piezoelectric effect is the ability of the body to produce some electrical charges due to the sustained stretch and pressure provided by a MFR practitioner. (2) When the body’s natural energetic flow and impulses are inhibited, bodily systems cannot perform optimally. MFR can restore fluidity back to these ground substances, bringing the body back into balance and proper function.
This can have a systemic effect on the body’s overall function by reducing stress and decreasing inflammation, which are precursors for a healthy digestive tract. Here’s the breakdown of how MFR can improve digestion:
Releasing of abdominal tension: MFR helps release fascial restrictions within the abdominal region. By addressing these restrictions, MFR can alleviate the compression of digestive organs, such as the stomach and intestines. Reduced compression will allow for improved blood flow and optimal functioning. This can relieve common GI complaints such as bloating, cramping, and discomfort.
Promoting circulation and nerve function: When MFR is done throughout areas of the body, especially near the abdomen, it dramatically increases circulation and blood flow to the digestive system. Increased blood flow and circulation means more oxygen, nutrients, and immune-boosting cells get delivered to the digestive system. This improves the health and function of GI organs and nerves.
Addressing diaphragm restrictions: The diaphragm plays a significant role in digestion. This muscle is dome-shaped and separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity. Stiff fascia can cause restrictions within the diaphragm and impact how it moves. MFR can focus on freeing up these tissue restrictions. Proper breathing patterns can occur when the diaphragm is free of restrictions and able to move optimally. Good breathing patterns, such as deep diaphragmatic breathing, promote relaxation and reduce stress. When relaxed, your body activates your parasympathetic nervous system, the part of the nervous system focused on resting and digesting. This creates an environment for your digestive tract to work at its full potential.
Reducing inflammation: MFR helps reduce systemic inflammation. Chronic stress and inflammation can lead to a sympathetic state, or our fight or flight state. When this happens, energy is redirected to other body regions and away from organs involved in digestion. When compromised, the GI tract does not break down food and convert it to usable energy like it’s supposed to. This creates an imbalance in the gut and increases inflammation within your GI tract and throughout your body. MFR treatments can help get excess inflammation under control. This allows our nervous system, especially our parasympathetic nervous system, to function optimally. This also redirects our energy back to our gut which promotes digestion, improved gut health, and reduced inflammation.
Recovering compromised fascia: Working with an MFR practitioner is crucial to restoring health to compromised fascia. This is especially important following abdominal surgeries or conditions that can result in scar tissue, which is fascia that has adhered to surrounding structures and has become restricted. As mentioned above, abdominal surgeries such as hysterectomies, cesarean sections, and laparoscopic procedures can put our fascia at risk for developing scar tissue. This change in the mobility of our fascia can have negative impacts on our digestive health. Fascial changes resulting from pregnancy as well as conditions that develop as a result of compromised fascia, such as hernias, can also impact our digestion. By reducing myofascial restrictions and adhesions, a MFR practitioner will bring balance to our fascial system which will positively impact our digestive health.
Enhancing gut-brain connection: There is a very close relationship between the vagus nerve and fascia. You can read more about this relationship in our How Fascia impacts the health of your vagus nerve blog. The vagus nerve is your 10th cranial nerve that travels from the base of your brainstem all the way down to your abdomen. Fascia and the vagus nerve are closely connected both anatomically and functionally. The vagus nerve innervates fascial tissue throughout the torso. It is estimated that 90% of the vagus nerve collects and sends information to the brain. It is largely responsible for the gut-brain axis. Fascial restrictions can exert excess pressure onto the vagus nerve which can inhibit its functioning. When the vagus nerve is not functioning properly, this negatively impacts digestion. MFR can restore the health of the fascial system allowing the vagus nerve to function as it should to better support digestion.
The digestive system is a complex network of various organs, processes, and factors that can affect its overall function. Taking a holistic approach to care means acknowledging that our digestive health can be influenced by different aspects of our well-being, such as physical, mental, and emotional health, as well as a variety of other lifestyle factors. Rather than treating symptoms, a holistic approach addresses root causes.
Digestive health problems can be unique, and can also have a variety of causes. An integrative approach examines the individual’s needs, preferences, and circumstances to create personalized treatment plans. Things such as diet, stress, sleep, exercise, and emotional well-being are often addressed in order to improve digestive health.
Integrative medicine emphasizes preventive measures and encourages individuals to take charge of their health. It identifies and addresses potential risk factors, promotes healthy lifestyle habits, and supports the body’s natural healing ability. By adopting integrative approaches, individuals can prevent the occurrence or advancement of digestive disorders. This emphasis on prevention can contribute to better long-term results and improved health.
An integrative approach often involves collaboration among healthcare providers from different disciplines. This fosters a team-based approach to patient care, which often leads to improved communication, coordination, and integration of various treatment modalities. It also allows for a more comprehensive understanding of an individual’s health and ensures that all aspects of their well-being are being considered.
- Madison A, Kiecolt-Glaser JK. Stress, depression, diet, and the gut microbiota: human-bacteria interactions at the core of psychoneuroimmunology and nutrition. Curr Opin Behav Sci. 2019 Aug;28:105-110. doi: 10.1016/j.cobeha.2019.01.011. Epub 2019 Mar 25. PMID: 32395568; PMCID: PMC7213601.
- Cubick EE, Quezada VY, Schumer AD, Davis CM. Sustained release myofascial release as treatment for a patient with complications of rheumatoid arthritis and collagenous colitis: a case report. Int J Ther Massage Bodywork. 2011;4(3):1-9. doi: 10.3822/ijtmb.v4i3.112. Epub 2011 Sep 30. PMID: 22016756; PMCID: PMC3184472.